New Work at Isthmia: Old Excavations, Traces, and Memory

I was thrilled to see Jon Frey and Tim Gregory publish a lengthy article on their ongoing research at the site of Isthmia in Greece. In “Old Excavations, New Interpretations: The 2008–2013 Seasons of The Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia” (Hesperia 85 (2016) 437-490), Frey and Gregory re-examine decades old excavations around the Roman Bath and the Hexamilion wall at the Panhellenic sanctuary of Isthmia in the eastern Corinthia.

The article is remarkably rich and detailed (in the way that Hesperia articles can be) so there’s not much point for me to try to summarize it. Frey and Gregory identify some new buildings, they add to our scant knowledge about the earliest Roman phases of the re-established sanctuary, and, in general, offer evidence that makes Isthmia look more like a Panhellenic sanctuary. What is more interesting to me, is the big picture value of their work as a model for approaching older excavations without conducting massive new field work campaigns. Since I’ve started working at the site of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus where we have worked to publish 30-year old excavations, I’ve become convinced that the future of Mediterranean archaeology is in returning to old sites with new perspectives, questions, and technology.

So here are a few observations.

1. Notebooks. Excavation produce so much information ranging from physical evidence (architecture, ceramics, scarps) to illustrations and plans and notebooks. It is hardly surprising that these artifacts can support multiple interpretations of the history and archeology of a site. This kind of work reminds us that there is not a linear relationship between excavation “data” and archaeological knowledge production. Archaeological documentation is messy, copious, and complex making old excavations not “done deals,” but abundant sources for new interpretations and new analysis. 

2. Trenches. Frey and Gregory returned to trenches that had been excavated and neglected for decades. I visited Frey a few times while he was removing weeds and straightening scarps in a trench that I had walked by dozens of times without thinking much of it. His work in these trenches, however, revealed features that the original excavators overlooked allowed for new measurements, and recognized details that had received only inconsistent reporting. For example, he recognized evidence for looter pits that the original excavators had missed, connected architectural features across multiple trenches at the site to reveal an massive porticoed gymnasium building, and identified new evidence for early Roman work at the site that previous excavators had no reason to even note in their work.

When I first started working on the notebooks at Polis-Chrysochous, I had this naive idea that I could largely reconstruct the excavation of the site from the notebooks and various plans. As archaeologists, we imagine that our documentation preserves the site even as we “destroy” physical evidence through excavation. In fact, “preservation by record” policies reflect this basic assumption about how archaeology works. A recent article, for example, celebrates this very idea and suggests that digitization will help us overcome the reality with the title: “Excavation is Destruction Digitization.” Most archaeologists know, however, that archaeological excavation is not really destruction, but the production of archaeological knowledge. While field work will always will come at a cost (both literally and figuratively in the reorganization and physical displacement of material), it seems to me that the disciplinary arguments for excavation as destruction do more to occlude alternate interpretation grounded (literally!) in the same space and documentation than to discourage careless digging. After all, the irregularities in the excavation methods used even 30 years ago at Polis are as much a source for the sites interpretation potential and vitality as carefully excavated sites present their interpretations as the natural outgrowth of rigorous methods. There’s a certain irony that sites excavated in less rigorous ways then have the potential to create more archaeological foment than those produced through the hyper-confidence of methodological rigor. Isthmia would seem to be a good example of this.

3. Memory and Architecture. Jon Frey has done significant work on the study of spolia and construction practice in Late Antiquity (we talked to him about his book on the Caraheard podcast here). Lurking in the background of this article on Isthmia is the ghostly outline of a massive porticoed gymnasium associated with athletic events at the Panhellenic sanctuary. Frey argues that the Hexamilion wall, the massive 5th-century AD fortification wall that bisected the Isthmus of Corinth, followed the outline of the gymnasium and incorporated not only spolia from this building, but also part of its foundations and walls. The reasons for this would appear to be profoundly practical. The Hexamilion was a massive building project and any opportunities to take advantage of existing structures offered significant labor savings. The use of part of the gymnasium, then, reflected the practical realities of such a massive construction project, but at the same time, it the course of the wall preserved the imprint of the gymnasium through spolia and its shape.

I have tended to think of memory in antiquity as a conscious act to commemorate an earlier monument, ritual, event, or person. In the context of Isthmia, it may be that memory of the earlier monument is less a conscious act and more like the muscle memories that we develop as we type, ride a bike, or even go about our daily lives. We remember how to hit the brake pedal at a stoplight, but we don’t consciously think “I remember last time I was hear I moved my right foot juuuuust so to slow down the car.” Instead, we just act and move in a way that consistently produces certain results. The practical element of memory preserve the outline of an earlier building in the same way that a palimpsest preserved the record of an earlier text. This commemorative practice was not bound up in a series of conscious efforts to preserve the past, but in a kind of muscle memory embodied in the practice and contingencies of construction.

Just as excavations and their documentation produce evidence for past practices that do not necessarily lead inevitably to certain conclusions, construction practices in antiquity preserve the traces of past landscapes in unexpected and perhaps even unintentional ways. Frey and Gregory weave together these two kinds of practices – one modern and one ancient – in a paper that should serve as a model for archaeological work at old sites in the present.

The Temples of Noricum and Panonia

The destruction of temples in Late Antiquity has long conjured images of fanatical Christians destroying pagan temples and violently ending traditional, urban and monumental religious practices. Even in antiquity, this view of Christianity carried some prestige with texts like the Life of Porphyry of Gaza depicting the violent destruction of the great temple of Zeus in that city. The vivid descriptions in texts like this seemed ripe for generalization, and the destruction of temples became a fixture in how many scholars understood archaeological evidence from around the Roman world.   

Scholarship over the last 40 years has challenged this long-held view and hinted that pagan practices were not static but constantly changing and that practices associated with monumental temples was in abeyance or decline. In other words, we might see Christian “attacks” on pagan temples as salvage operations for building materials rather than efforts to destroy thriving pagan worship sites. The challenge associated with unpacking the final days of these temples is that the early excavation dates, complex urban histories, and underdeveloped ceramic typologies compromised our ability to make sense of the archaeological evidence from these buildings. 

David Walsh’s recent article in the American Journal of Archaeology offers a serious attempt to marshal the evidence from temples in Noricum and Panonia on the Roman Empire’s northern frontiers. He argues that by the late-3rd-century and into the 4th-century, the building and maintenance of urban temples declined. Since most temples were the product of public benefaction, their construction and upkeep depended upon their continued centrality to social and religious life of the communities. By the time of the Tetrarchy, he suggested that energies shifted to building walls and fortifications to protect communities from the destabilization of Rome’s northern frontier, and this contributed to a changing culture in these provinces away from monumental public religious practices and toward smaller, private temples. Walsh noted that the increased use of spolia in both public buildings and fortifications in the 4th century reflects the abandonment monumental temples. 

In Noricum and Panonia, then, the rise of monumental Christianity was likely a separate from and unrelated phenomenon to the decline in urban paganism. The rise of both Christian communities and their construction of monumental buildings in urban space. This offers a distinct context for the rise of Christianity in the 5th and 6th century. Rather than representing the replacement of monumental urban paganism with a monumental, urban Christianity, churches competed with public buildings in transformed urban landscapes of the Mediterranean. It also means that it drew resources away from public buildings (baths, basilicas, et c.) which often served non religious or civic functions for their communities. This shift not only makes manifest the growing authority of the church in religious, social, and formally civic terms, but also offers an opportunity to consider the ways in which the emergence of monumental Christianity encouraged a change in social practices in the community. For example, with resources being drawn to larger, Christian buildings in the urban core, the construction and maintenance of large bathing establishments suffered, and this might explain the tendency for bath houses to be smaller in the 6th and 7th century and the eventual decline of baths as important social places in Late Antique and Early Byzantine urban space.

Adventures in Podcasting: Richard and I talk with Jon Frey talk about Digital Humanities, Greece, and Spolia

Since I have now outsources all non-Tourist Guide related related work to Dr. Rothaus (Thanks, Richard!) at least until the end of next week!

So please enjoy his show notes and his mad editing skills on our most recent Caraheard podcast:

(And, yeah, Richard, I’m going to step it up!)

Podcast fans can join Bill and Richard this episode in the rousing excitement of a discussion with Jon Frey on how to Stare at Walls!  or Scan Someone Else’s Notes!   We also discuss digital humanities and archaeology, swap some Ohio State University Excavation at Isthmia stories, and discuss Jon’s shiny new book Spolia in Fortifications and the Common Builder in Late Antiquity.

This weeks show notes are short because both Bill and Richard are grumpy, and together they are an exponential bad attitude multiplier.  But the critical info is here, as well as this gratuitous photo of Richard and Jon and the inimitable Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar in San Francisco.

frey and guy

During the podcast, we discuss how Jon illustrated some of the blocks of interest in his discussion of walls:

Capture

Jon uses a word that you almost never hear several times: euergetism.

Things we mention:

Bridge of the Untiring Sea

I’m super excited that Tim Gregory and Betsy Gebhard’s edited volume, Bridge of the Untiring Sea: The Corinthian Isthmus from Prehistory to Late Antiquity (Hesperia Supplement 48), has finally appeared. This is the proceedings of a conference held in the summer of 2007 when I was still a clean-shaven assistant professor. I vividly remember spilling a coffee on my shirt that morning on my commute through downtown Athens. 

IMG 4241

At that conference, I gave a paper titled “Epigraphy, Liturgy, and Imperial Policy on the Justinianic Isthmus.” I thought it was a good paper. After I gave it, a very well known Greek archaeologist approached me and told me that she had heard my paper and found it “very unlikely.” I blamed it on the coffee-stained shirt. The editors of The Bridge volume, however, suggested that something might still be amiss when they sent it out for two rounds of peer review. I assured them that I usually wear clean shirts, and the comments from the peer reviewers (and the editors) helped me make my case more compelling. 

This paper is the final paper published from my larger dissertation project (the link to chapter 2 is broken, but this link to this paper will replace it). Despite the disappointing reaction prior to publication, I still think that this paper represents the best idea that I’ve had as a scholar (and since I’ve only ever had one or two ideas, the competition is not steep), and maybe the best thing that I’ve ever written. It is one of the few times in my scholarly career that I rolled up my sleeves and actually did what I was trained to do: analyze a text. 

Anyway. Here’s a link to a preprint. It lacks the always-classy layout that the good folks at the American School of Classical Studies Publication office always seem to pull off. The editors there even made me correct my crazy footnotes. Tyrants!

If you want an off print, drop me a line. I’m eager to share! When I get permission I’ll post my paper here. 

UPDATE: BOO! The good folks at the American School of Classical Studies publication office won’t let me post a copy of my paper here for fear of losing tens of tens of dollars in book sales. POX ON THEM (in a nice way).

The Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual Meeting in Review

After a couple of days at the AIA annual meeting in San Francisco, I started to wonder whether archaeologists should only be allowed to go to the meeting once every two or three years. This is not meant as a criticism to those there or the bustle of the conference (or the need for structured and unstructured opportunities to interact), but as a way to observe that changes in the field are thrown into high relief after taking a few years aways from the conference.

Here are a few observations:

1. Late Antiquity. When I first started to attend the AIA, panels on Late Antiquity were shoved unceremoniously into the Saturday or Sunday morning sessions, safely sequestered from the proper business of Classical archaeology. Over the past few years, however, Late Antiquity panels have migrated to the grown-up table, and this year, a panel on Greece in Late Antiquity happened at 8 am on Friday, prime time for the conference. 

The panel was a nice blend of senior scholars and new comers and established projects and new field work. The focus was on ceramics (3 papers) and to a lesser extent architecture (2 papers) and skewed later, into 6th and 7th century (4 papers) abandoning to some extent the 4th and 5th century sweet-spot favored by earlier scholars of this era. Three of the papers featured explicitly quantitative analysis, and two of the paper drew upon recent field work: a survey and an excavation. 

While 5 papers are hardly a representative sample of the work in Late Antiquity, the distribution of papers in this panel offers vague confirmation to my gut feeling that Late Antiquitists are working on later period and more fixated on ceramics than ever before.

2. Survey Archaeology. Like Late Antiquity, it wasn’t very long ago when you’d expect someone to stand up at any panel on survey archaeology and ask whether we could really base any arguments on material found on the surface. Those days have passed, it would seem (whether we have resolved the underlying issues associated with survey archaeology and formation processes or not) and the panel at this year’s AIA drew a standing room only crowd.

The papers were good, and projects appeared sound. None of the paper appear to genuinely embrace an analysis based on siteless survey, and in almost all cases preferred to talk about the landscape as a series of sites with distinct functions. At the same time, none of the paper really talked about any sites smaller than the ambiguous “settlement.” I don’t recall any farmsteads, sanctuaries, or site functions defined by size. There was also very little discussion of method.

3. Abandonment. I enjoyed the twin sessions on abandonment which both problematized abandonment as a symptom of decline, as well as a key stage in the formation of sites in the archaeological landscape. The convergence of concerns about periodization (period are frequently defined by episodes of abandonment) and archaeological formation processes points creates an intriguing and productive space around historical narratives that have become so dependent upon patterns of rise and fall. In fact, the ambiguity surrounding abandonment offered a temporary respite for anyone exhausted by popular narratives of decline that are so prevalent in our media today.

We can’t avoid change.

New Work on Churches in the Peloponnesus

I was pretty excited to read Rebecca Sweetman’s newest article on the Early Christian churches of the Peloponnesus in the the most recent American Journal of Archaeology. Not only has her work done a tremendous amount to recover my dissertation (on the same topic) from academic invisibility by citing regularly, but she also gave my blog a citation. More than the selfish pleasure of having one’s work recognized, Sweetman has done a great job bringing these neglected buildings into the scholarly spotlight. We can only hope that her insightful and important work will help these buildings gain more attention and enjoy for fully in the revived interest in Late Antiquity. 

Sweetman’s work is both better than mine, but also different. She has brought a more impressive arsenal of theoretical work to understanding these building and their role in Christianization. She has also a more intimate familiarity with the archaeology of these buildings from her time working at the acropolis basilica in Sparta. Finally, she has a more subtle and expansive view of the monuments themselves. In short, I’m jealous of her command of the source material. So, go read her work!

That being said, I do have a few little comments, which are less objections to her arguments than different takes on the same body of evidence:

1. Memory and Pagan Monuments. Sweetman thinks critically about memory in her work and agues that Early Christian basilicas and liturgy relied on the active memory of pagan and civic rituals to produce meaning, and by extension to produce a Christian ritual and social world. She notes that a few Early Christian churches in Greece were located near recently abandoned or still functioning pagan sanctuaries (the most famous examples being Olympia and Epidauros).

She also notes that Early Christian basilicas were built on the sites of long abandoned pagan monuments (e.g. Nemea). The usual reasoning for this phenomena is that abandoned pagan sanctuaries were a source of building material or the sites of settlements unrelated to the earlier history of the place. Sweetman hints (albeit vaguely) that memory of pagan activities could adhere to even long abandoned sanctuaries. I couldn’t help think of one of my favorite saints, John “The Strange” O Xenos from Crete. He discovered a long abandon pagan sanctuary and did spiritual battle with the lingering presence of paganism there and built a church. 

From the perspective of Early Christianity in Greece, these long abandoned pagan sanctuaries might be ideal places for Christian churches. They leverage lingering memories, but avoid direct confrontation with existing pagan practices. Moreover, the appropriation of these sites of lapsed pagan practices both emphasized continuity with the distant past as well as placing contemporary paganism as somehow innovative and different from historical practices. This move by Christianity had the potential of being more powerful than simply siddling up to existing sanctuaries. Christianity was appropriating the historical landscape of paganism.

2. Church Building and Elite Practice. Sweetman argues that some church construction paralleled elite practices of munificence by allowing elites to continue to patronize cult activities but to do so as part of Christian practices. I don’t disagree with this argument, but I do wonder whether emphasizing traditional practices of elite benefaction overlooks changes in Christian attitudes toward giving to the poor and to the church as part of a larger route to salvation. Changing Christian attitudes toward giving opened new ways for church builders to fund their buildings and freed them from existing networks of aristocratic wealth which often proved an obstacle to the centralizing tendency of the organized church.

There is evidence from the Adriatic coast and from Greece of rather small donations (<1 solidus) to the decoration of churches. This would have been within the budget of people of middling means in the Late Roman world. The tendency for these small donations to appear in groups in a building suggests that the church was recruiting groups of these donors. The appearance of anonymous donors of small amounts hints that the motive for giving was less about developing civic prestige and more about seeking divine rewards. 

3. Christianization vs. Monumentalization. Finally, I have come to wonder more and more whether looking at the Early Christian churches of the Peloponnesus has less to do with Christianization and more to do with the monumentalization process. While I recognize that building monumental architecture was closely tied to the spread of Christianity from the 4th on, I also wonder whether our linking of these two processes together obscure the real reason for the appearance of so many large buildings in Greece in the later 5th and 6th centuries. The 5th and 6th centuries were wracked by Christological debates that fractured Christian communities throughout the Mediterranean, but particularly in Greece where imperial and ecclesiastical policies were often at odds with each other.

Investment in monumental architecture, in this scenario, had less to do with the spread of Christianity, and more to do with the development of competition between groups within Christianity who had access to resources to make their claims in the Greek landscape. The proliferation of churches around cities like Corinth need not represent the expansion of the Christian community in this place, but rather may represent the appearance of groups with competing claims around this important city. This would help explain the multiple baptisteries, the multiple synthrona, and the subtle, but obvious differences in architecture and decoration in these buildings.

Finally, Sweetman and I would both have great little books on the Early Christian architecture and Christianization of Greece:

Hers would include her 2013 article, and the two articles she published this year (in the ABSA (pdf) and the AJA).

Mine is sketched out here.

It’s a good time to be an Early Christian basilica in Greece!

Early Byzantine Pottery from Kenchreai

I was pretty excited to see the most recent publication in the ISAW Papers series: “Preliminary Report on Early Byzantine Pottery from a Building Complex at Kenchreai (Greece)” by Sebastian Heath, Joseph L. Rife, Jorge J. Bravo III, and Gavin Blasdel. First, the ISAW Papers series is an innovative way to publish individual article length papers, with open access licenses, without the overhead and complications of running a conventional journal.

Second, and more importantly, Joe Rife is another guy with strong ties to Isthmian and the Eastern Corinthia, and he fits into my inadvertent theme this week of “people who influenced my early archaeological career through their work in the Eastern Corinthia.” Sebastian Heath is a fellow digital archaeologist, and he and I have some imaginative future projects together currently set to a low simmer, but, more than that, he is a fine ceramicist. So when they teamed up with some other fine archaeologists to produce a preliminary report on an assemblage from a site called the Threpsiades Complex near the harbor of Kenchreai, it was worth some of my time.

Kenchreai (or “Quencher” as my autocorrect insists on calling it) is the eastern port of the city of Corinth and sits on the Saronic gulf. It appears to have fallen out of large-scale use after a series of seismic events in the later 6th or 7th century and today is a small settlement of vacation homes. The site considered in this article was excavated by the Greek archaeological service nearly 40 years ago, and the finds came to the current teams attention when the storerooms at the Isthmia museum were reorganized in 2002-2003. Curiously, at that time, “as much as 25%” of the material was transported to Ancient Corinth and buried there to conserve space. There is a tradition of buried assemblages of Late Roman material in the Corinthia, and it would be very interesting to understand the context and location of this reburial of archaeological finds. (In fact, as I’ve read more and more about the archaeology of the contemporary world, I’m struck by how little archaeology of archaeology there is. Excavating a pottery dump – particularly a big one – would be a fascinating opportunity to understand a wide range of behaviors associated with modern archaeological practices (which are sometimes less well documented than one would like)).

The report documents the first reading of an assemblage of Early Byzantine pottery. The latest fineware at the site, African Red-Slip forms 105 and 99 and the later from of LRC (Phocaean Red-Slip) form 3 and 10, suggest the last phase of the site in the late 6th or early 7th century AD. Like our work at Polis on Cyprus, they don’t necessarily have complete control of the stratigraphy (yet?) so some intermixing of earlier and later material is likely in this preliminary analysis. 

The main focus of their study, however, is amphora and especially the remarkably common Late Roman 2 amphora which appeared at this site in great abundance (over 70% of the total assemblage of amphora). The presence of stoppers and funnels hints that the complex may have served as a transshipment point for goods into these amphora for import or export (or in the words of the authors “storing and pouring”), although the authors stop short of making that argument. In this way, this small site could be similar to our nearly contemporary site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus which likewise shared an abundance of a single type of amphora, in our case Late Roman 1, which almost certainly represented the large scale export. 

I was pleased to see some Late Roman 1 amphora in the assemblage as well as some other Eastern Mediterranean types reinforcing the connectedness of this site to larger Mediterranean trading patterns. I always feel bad that there is no Late Roman “D ware” (or the fineware formerly known as Cypriot Red Slip) at these sites, because I regard it as a fine and serviceable fineware that did not see as much circulation outside of the immediate neighborhood of Cyprus as I’d like. Aside for my sentimental feelings toward an obscure Late Roman fineware, this short publication presents enough to contribute meaningfully to the larger conversation about exchange in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

This site complements the recent short publication by Paul Reynolds and Evangelos Pavlidis on an assemblage of amphora and fineware from the “Bishop’s House” at Nikopolis. This site produced a substantial group of nearly complete LR1 and LR2 amphora (which accounted for over 40% of the total amphora at the site) and Samian amphora (which accounted for a third of the amphora at the site). It also featured a significant quantity of late 6th to early 7th century African Red Slip to the exclusion of almost any other kind of fineware. The presence of LR1 amphora indicate that the site had contact with the Eastern Mediterranean despite its western facing orientation, but this did not result in the importation of fineware like the very common Phocaean ware present at Kenchreai. Reynolds and Pavlidis observe that the absence of Phocaean ware and the preponderance of Samian amphora make the assemblage at this site is different from that observed at Butrint (to the north) or Corinth. This suggests the presence of “multilayered” distribution models for fineware and amphora.

The variation between the assemblages present at these sites make them useful points of comparison for the diversity of assemblages present on the island of Cyprus. On Cyprus, sites that are less than 20 km apart can produce very different assemblages of fineware and storage and transport vessels during Late Antiquity. Whether this represents multilayered distribution models offering different degrees of access or simply differences in taste across a region remains an open question. 

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.