Architecture and Assemblage at the Site of Polis-Chysochous on Cyprus

 I’m in snowtastic Boulder to give a talk about Cyprus today. If you’re in the area, you should come and here it.

Even the snow is better in Colorado (here’s Grand Forks, for reference; compare the grills):

IMG 2287

Here’s the info:

Caraher flyer

And, if you’re not able to make it to Boulder tonight, here’s the talk:

Settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th centuries

This past week R. Scott Moore and I sent off a draft of a paper on settlement in Cyprus during the Early Byzantine period. 

This has been a work in progress for the last few months and developed partially from our work on Cyprus at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project and at the site of Polis-Chrysochous. 

This is the earlier draft of this paper, and you can read more on this paper hereherehere, and here.

Settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th Centuries

Over the next two months, I’ve been asked to write an essay on settlement in 7th and 8th century Cyprus. My work at Polis-Chrysochous and at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria puts me in a good position to think broadly of this transitional period with two specific points of reference.

The coastal site of Pyla-Koutsopetria appears to go into steep decline after the middle of the 7th century coinciding, it would seem, increased activity of the Arab fleet in middle decades of the 7th. During the 5th-7th century, there is every indication that the site was prosperous coastal emporium. The almost complete absence of material dating to the 8th or 9th centuries would seem to indicate that the site no long constituted a substantial locus of settlement on the south coast of the island. Of course, it is possible that the population simply moved to the east or west of our survey area or declined as the small embayment present infilled or larger economic demand for the agricultural produce in the area declined. In other words, we have no evidence that the decline of the site related directly to the activity of the Arab fleet.

Polis-Chrysochous, or ancient Arsinoe, appears to have had a different history. On the one hand, there is some evidence that life at the site was disrupted in the mid-7th century including damage to at least one of the two prominent churches revealed through excavation. On the other hand, the church was modified extensively in the mid-7th century with architecturally sophisticated additions that did more than just restore the building to its earlier state. In fact, the addition of a narthex, a portico along the church’s south wall, and a barrel vaulted roof produced a building that echoed the design of well-known basilicas elsewhere on the island. The massive deposit of rubble and pottery associated with these modification establishes beyond a doubt a terminus post quem of the mid-7th century.

Using these two sites as points of reference, I think I can address the six major issues that influence how we talk about the 7th and 8th century on Cyprus in general and that directly impact what we can say about settlement.

1. Methods and Evidence: Survey, Excavation, Architecture, and Texts

First, there is the reality that our textual sources are problematic and fragmentary deriving from a range of genres, historiographic perspectives, and languages. They do not present a cohesive picture of the island provide much insight into larger issues of settlement. In fact, some sources suggest that the population of the island was nearly all sold into slavery and removed (e.g. the Soli inscription) whereas other inscriptions seem to indicate that the island remained reasonably prosperous despite Arab incursions. Archaeological evidence likewise follows this confusing pattern with excavated sites showing greater signs of continuity with 6th century activities than the landscape revealed by intensive survey. Architecture is even more revealing with several well-know churches preserving decoration datable to the 7th and 8th century. In the end, textual and archaeological evidence leave us with two different, mutually exclusive stories for this period of transition.

2. Ceramic chronology.

Part of the issue is the difficult nature of 7th and 8th century ceramics. Despite the significant amount of scholarship from the past decade that has pushed the date of well-know fine wares and transport amphora from the comfortable confines of the 6th century into the wild margins of the 8th, there has been little large scale reassessment of ceramic assemblages on the island. We have continued to note how individual “type fossils” like Late Roman 1 amphora or Cypriot Red Slip forms could date later than originally thought, but we have only begun to use this knowledge to imagine 7th or 8th century assemblages on the island (outside a few, well-known examples like the pottery workshops at Dhiorios or Marcus Rautman’s identification of hand-made pottery at Kopetria). Until the redating of major wares informs the visibility of locally produced or “common” wares on Cyprus, the 7th and 8th centuries will continue to be rather difficult to identify in surface survey and in more modest contexts where imported or fine ceramics are absent.

3. Definition and Diversity in Settlement

Whatever the shortcomings of the current state of our knowledge about the 7th and 8th century, it is clear that something changed in the nature of settlement on the island. The “crowded countryside” of Late Antique Cyprus gave way to a much less clearly occupied landscape. At the same time, there appears to have been changes to the urban landscape with activities at sites like Kourion showing dramatic reductions in scope and prosperity whereas at sites like Polis, Paphos, and Salamis-Constantia showing signs of continued settlement and the continued functioning of some urban institutions like the church, civic government, and markets.

What is missing from our understanding of settlement on the island is the link between these urban sites and the countryside. Elsewhere in the Byzantine world, the emergence of villages and village economies characterized the change in settlement pattern during this period. Urban areas saw contraction and fortification. Thus far there is little evidence for these phenomena on Cyprus suggesting that the primary organization of settlement and rural production functioned along different lines. Perhaps the intensely urbanized character of Roman and Late Roman Cyprus continued to shape the organization of settlement and rural activities in the Early Byzantine period. Perhaps new institutions like monasteries exerted a stronger influence on Cyprus than elsewhere.

It may also be that the massive disruptions to the population of Cyprus brought about by the Arab raids, captive taking expeditions, and forced migrations, transformed the otherwise persistent landscape of the countryside into one characterized by short term and contingent settlement as a response to the rapidly changing demographic situation. We know that short term settlements tend to be less visible in the countryside than long term habitation. So perhaps the issue of rural settlement on Cyprus is one of visibility rather than presence.

4. Trade, Connectivity, and the Local Production

Contextualizing much of the conversation about 7th and 8th century Cyprus is the nature of economic activity in the Eastern Mediterranean during these centuries. As scholars have begun to recognize that the political and military events in this period disrupted trade as much as caused it to decline, new models for understanding the Early Byzantine economy have emphasized the change in character as well as change in scale. If the Cypriot economy and settlement in the 6th century felt the influence of the annona trade between Egypt and Constantinople (e.g. the settlement at Peyia in southwest Cyprus being warehousing site) and the administrative reorganization that funneled the agricultural produce of Cyprus to the needs of the army at the frontiers (perhaps leading to the prosperity of the sites at Dreamer’s Bay and Pyla-Koutsopetria), then the economy and settlement of the 7th and 8th century perhaps responded to the more fluid and changing opportunities and political situation of those centuries. For example, the changing needs and power of the central government in Constantinople may have spurred the decline of sites that emerged in response to the command economy of Late Antiquity.

If the unsettled economic and political circumstances of the 7th and 8th century, may have led to more dynamic responses from Cypriots who looked to limit risk and maximize opportunities in more contingent ways. In other words, if we accept the possibility that rural settlement was less visible during these centuries (rather than absent), it may be that short-term settlement in a “contingent countryside” reflects a more situational approach to a more dynamic economy.

5. Administrative Structures: Church and State

The persistence of certain institutions on Cyprus – namely the church and the political and social apparatus of the Byzantine state – demonstrate that despite the the large scale disruptions to the Late Roman world, certain aspect of life continued on Cyprus relatively unchanged. Recent work on lead seals from Cyprus show that the ecclesiastical, administrative, and aristocratic hierarchies continued to function on the island. These structures demonstrate the persistence of official ties to the capital and to the underlying legal and social institutions that would maintain, say, the prestige of local aristocrats or the position of the church as an economic engine in the community.

So, if the contingent countryside reflects the instability of Mediterranean politics and economy, then the persistence of some activity in urban centers demonstrates the ongoing presence of traditional elites attempting to continue to perform their traditional function in particular dynamic environment. The reconstruction of churches at Soli, Paphos, Polis, and elsewhere suggest that the church continued to be able to marshal and deploy economic resources from communities. The reconstruction of aqueducts and perhaps some civic buildings at Salamis-Constantia shows that certain civic functions continued, albeit on a more modest scale. Finally, the apparent abandonment of the site Kourion may reflect the intervention of community leaders to relocate key institutions and salvage existing resources from the site.

6. Events: Invasions, Forced Migrations, and Settlements.

Finally, events have long shaped the master narrative of the decline in the Roman Mediterranean. The Arab raids of the middle decades of the 7th century, the loss of Egypt and Syria, and the so-called “condominium period” have long shaped our understanding of settlement, demography, and economy on the island.  On the one hand, it is impossible not to see things like a substantial Arab fleet patrolling the waters off the island’s coast or the fundamental transformation of the large-scale economic unity of the Eastern Mediterranean impacting events on Cyprus. In fact, it would naive to somehow argue that these events did not impact life on the island.

On the other hand, punctuating the history of the island with these events undermines any understanding that sees Cypriot society as dynamic agents in their own history. By shifting our attention to patterns of activity on the island and prioritizing them in our analysis, we open the door to appreciating the strategies that communities and institutions used to adapt to changing times. It provides more than simply an answer to tired questions of “continuity and change” (that largely reside within a discourse of development toward nationalism) and allows us to focus our attention of the mechanisms that produced the seductive patterns that have meant so much to our understanding of the modern world.

The Narthex at the South Basilica at Polis on Cyprus

After a two week hiatus to work on the preliminary report from our work in the man camps, I’ve been able to return to my preliminary report on our work at the South Basilica at Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus. I’ve managed to pull together much of the work that we’ve done over the past few study seasons into a single document and have begun to shuffle the various parts into some kind of rational order. In the process of doing this, I always discover little issues that require additional research or documentation. This week I had to think more carefully about the narthex and apse of the South Basilica. So today, I’ll amuse you with a brief discussion considering the arrangement of the narthex. Next week, I’ll muse on the apse.

Figure 1 wrc3

We have assigned the narthex to the second phase of the building on the basis of its relationship to the south portico. Material from beneath the south portico is contemporary with material associated with what we believe to be a foundation cut along the west wall of the narthex. This material is all 7th century and seems to date to about a half-century or so later than the first phase of the building. The challenge, then, is that we have to imagine the first phase of the basilica at Polis without a narthex. 

Churches without narthexes are rare on Cyprus. There are, however, two from the nearby site of Peyia. The Baptistery Basilica at Peyia lacks a narthex, but the irregular west wall of the church hints that the epikopeion complex to the west made it impossible to construct a narthex in the narrow space. A similar concession to space probably accounts for the rather irregular shape of the narthex at the Chrysopolitissa basilica in Paphos. For the Baptistery Church at Peyia, the location of the baptistery to the south of this building hints that this building may not have been a typical church and was arranged to serve the needs of the baptismal rite rather than the standard liturgy.


MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf

(From R. Maguire, Late Antique Basilicas on Cyprus. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of East Anglia 2012).

To the east of this church stood the Central Basilica at Peyia. This church has generally been dated to the 6th century and perhaps the reign of Justinian owing to its centrally placed ambo and use of Proconnesian marble. In place of a traditional narthex, this church had a small, but elaborate atrium. The location of the earlier Baptistery Basilica to the west may have made it difficult to build both an atrium and a narthex for this church. The decision, then, was to include an open atrium rather than traditional enclosed narthex spanning the western side of the building.

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf

(From Maguire 2012)

DSC 0213View of the Baptistery and Central Basilica from the West

The decision to forego a traditional narthex in the relatively elaborate Central Basilica may suggest that the narthex was not an absolute requirement for liturgical practices on Cyprus.

Other examples of churches on Cyprus without narthexes are relatively rare. On the Karpas the two churches at Aphendrika (the Asomatos and Panayia) may have lacked narthexes in their earliest phase as perhaps did the church at Bedestan in Nicosia, but short of systematic excavation this will remain an open question. The earliest phase of the basilica at Maroni-Petrera appears to have lacked a narthex, but the early (5th c?) date of this building and its generally irregular shape makes it difficult to associate with other churches on the island in general. 

The absence of a narthex in the first phase of the South Basilica appears to be a genuine anomaly on Cyprus. The presence of a major road some 10 m to the west of the basilica’s west wall might have left an informal open space near its western entrances making the formal, covered space of a narthex unnecessary. It is interesting that the addition of the narthex coincided with the addition of the south portico which opened onto what may have been a walled courtyard to the south of the building. A tiny fragment of wall that leans against the eastern most wall of the south portico dates the east wall of the courtyard to after the construction of the south portico. 

So, perhaps the first phase of the church simply relied upon open space or a roughly enclosed courtyard to the west of the church that some time later was replaced with a formal narthex. The courtyard, as a result, was shifted to the south of the church and complemented with the south portico. It is tempting to see the atrium or open courtyard as serving an important function. If our reconstruction is correct, the south atrium would have opened onto a major east-west road through the neighborhood. The newly constructed narthex would have provided access to this courtyard or atrium through the southwest room which linked the narthex to the south portico. Paradoxically, then, the need for an open space around the basilica may have been more important than the somewhat more formal and covered narthex. 

Re-imagining the Basilica at E.F2 at Polis-Chrysochous

Tomorrow I head off to the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. You can check out the full program here (.pdf).

Our panel is at 8:20 AM on Friday morning:

5C City of Gold: Archaeological excavations at Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus

Theme: This session details the exhibition, City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus (Princeton University Art Museum, October 20, 2012–January 20, 2013), about the cities of Marion and Arsinoe that underlie modern-day Polis Chrysochous, and some of the research developed during the period leading up to the exhibition.

CHAIR: Joanna S. Smith (Princeton University), Presiding

8:20 Daniel Kershaw (The Metropolitan Museum of Art),
“Design Process and Evolution for the Exhibition, City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus, in the Princeton University Art Museum from October 20, 2012–January 20, 2013” (20 min.)

8:45 Nikitas Tampakis (Princeton University),
“Digitally Reviving the Buildings of Marion for Museum Display” (20 min.)

9:10 William A. P. Childs (Princeton University),
“Cypriot Aesthetics” (20 min.)

R. Scott Moore (Indiana University of Pennsylvania),
Brandon R. Olson (Boston University)
Tina Najbjerg (Independent Scholar),
“Chasing Arsinoe: A Reassessment of the Hellenistic Period” (20 min.)

William Caraher (University of North Dakota, Grand Forks)
Amy Papalexandrou (The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey),
“Re-imagining the Basilica at E.F2 at Polis Chrysochous” (20 min.)

Of course, I know my dear readers expect a sneak preview of our paper. Our paper is essentially a slightly tweaked and truncated version of the Polis section of my paper delivered at the University of Texas earlier in the fall. (If you must, you can compare it here.) This paper reflects four seasons of tireless work by some very dedicated collaborators (R. Scott Moore, Brandon Olson, and, of course, Amy Papalexandrou) and the enthusiastic support of the project director Joanna Smith and her predecessor Willie Childs. The ideas in this paper are heading toward a 10,000-12,000 word report for publication that summarizes four seasons of work at the South Basilica. Each iteration involves sharpening our ideas just a little bit.


Polis, Peyia, and Amathus Basilicas in a Comparative Context

This past year, I’ve done a bunch of work on the South Basilica at Polis and written a few papers on it with my colleagues R. Scott Moore and Amy Papalexandrou. In these papers I’ve suggest that our basilica looks a good bit like the Acropolis Basilica at Amathus. In fact, I’ve even blogged about it.

I’ve followed several scholars who observed that the Acropolis Basilica was more or less square with a core that’s 13 m x 13 m. The aisles are 3 m wide and the main nave is 6 m wide forming a 1:2:1 ratio quite common on Cyprus.


My colleague Amy Papalexandrou kept cautioning me on my argument suggesting that superimposing a crude 13 x 13 x box over the dimensions of the church at Polis was not really the kind of careful measurement that these kind of proportional arguments typically depend. I soldiered on with my argument, hoping that repetition alone would make my argument stronger.


This weekend, in preparing my paper for the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting, I revisited my argument and looked more carefully at the South Basilica’s plan. The most significant observation that I could make was that the nave and aisles were closer to 14.5 x 11.2 m than the visually compelling, but not very useful 13 x 13 m square. This is basically identical to the North Basilica at Peyia and similar in size, but not proportion, to the church of Ay. Kononas on the Akamas peninsula (14.3 x 12.4) which was ironically much closer to the 1:1 ratio of the Amathus Acropolis Basilica.

The North Basilica at Peyia (or Basilica III):

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf

Ay. Kononas on the Akamas:

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf

Good dimensions are difficult to find for the North Basilica at Peyia, but it appears to be closer to the proportions of the South Basilica at Polis with the width of the nave being around 4.5 m comparable to the approximately 5 m wide at Polis. The aisles were a bit narrower at Polis, but the proportions of the width of the nave to the width of the basilica are roughly the same (2.24 for Polis and 2.49 for Peyia). The church at Peyia lacked a portico like both the South Basilica at Polis and the Amathus Acropolis Church. Moreover, the west wall of its narthex at Peyia has a tribelon rather than the  arched openings present at Amathus and Polis. These differences make it difficult to see these churches as the products of the same work crew although the similarities proportions may hint at similar units of measurement. 

Unfortunately, neither the church at Peyia nor the church at Amathus have seen complete and final publications so our understanding of the phases of construction and archaeological dates remains incomplete. The North Basilica at Peyia and the Acropolis Church at Amathus are unlikely to date earlier than the end of the 6th century and are more or less contemporary with the South Basilica at Polis. 

Reconstructing Community from Broken Pots and Ruined Churches on Cyprus

This is a rare and exotic double post! 

Anyone who has seen me around campus knows that I’ve been obsessing with a paper that I’m delivering under the Friday night lights (um… sort of) at the University of Texas on Friday.

This paper is really just the start of three separate things. One is a longer article on our work at Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus probably for Hesperia. The other is for an article on connectivity during Late Antiquity grounded in the ceramic data from Cyprus and my two projects at Polis-Chrysochous and Pyla-Koutsopetria. Part of this paper looks toward something a bit more conceptual and in some way is an extension of a paper that I wrote a few years ago and delivered in Austin that looked at resistance in an “ambivalent” countryside of Late Antique Corinth. The topics are different, but the approaches are similar and reflect my recent interest how archaeology can reveal social cohesion and conflict.

Here it is with the Powerpoint slides at the end:

Sherds and Churches: Late Roman Pottery on Cyprus

The last couple of week, I’ve been working on the paper that I’ll give at the University of Texas next week (egads!). An important component of the paper involves comparing the Late Roman ceramic assemblage from the area around the South Basilica at Polis-Chrysochous with the contemporary assemblage from the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria with a particular emphasis on the local and imported fine ware.

The assemblages are different. A substantial residual assemblage at Polis produced a substantial quantity of Cypriot Red Slip (CRS) and almost no African Red Slip (ARS) or Phocaean Ware (PHW). the assemblage at Pyla-Koutsopetria was largely (60%) CRS with significant quantities of PHW and ARS. The reason for this difference is difficult to understand. On the one hand, it could be that the residents at Pyla-Koutsopetria simply preferred ARS and PHW to CRS. On the other hand, it could be that the quantity of CRS reaching the eastern part of the island was smaller making it more expensive and less able to compete with imported fine wares. This assumes, of course, that CRS is produced on the island (and there is some evidence that it was not) and that CRS, ARS, and PHW all have a comparable basic cost that shift depending on supply and access. In other words, one type of pottery is not radically more expensive to obtain than another.

It is worth noting that on Cyprus, CRS tends not to travel far inland. For example, the site of Panayia-Ematousa lies inland from Pyla-Koutsopetria. The assemblage of fine ware there is predominantly PHW (nearly 60%) with CRS and ARS accounting for 20% and 15% respectively. The coastal site of Maroni-Petrera produced an assemblage of Late Roman fine ware consisting of over 80% CRS. Inland, however, at the village site of Kalavassos- Kopetra, the quantity of PHW and ARS account for over 40% of the assemblage and CRS closer to 35%. In comparison to the nearly contemporary assemblage present at Polis, the Kopetra assemblage has fewer examples of large vessels like the thick-walled CRS Form 11 basin and CRS Form 8 dish and more examples of the somewhat smaller, very common, and long-lived CRS Form 9 dish. A similar trend is apparent when we compared CRS forms from the survey around the inland site of Palaiopaphos and the residual assemblage from Polis. In fact, almost no CRS Form 11 vessels seem to have made it inland to vicinity of Palaiopaphos. It would seem that “finer” CRS vessels moved inland more readily than thicker-walled and “chunkier” vessels.

My paper set out to make the argument that the assemblage of pottery present at different sites reflected a set of practices that defined these communities. The practices that produced these assemblages were not simply social or economic, but a combination of both. My current hypothesis goes as follows: 

It would appear that CRS was most desirable in coastal communities near the southwestern corner of the island, most likely nearest its production base or the major point of arrival on the island. Presumably, that this point it was affordable in comparison to its imported rival fine wares produced in either North Africa (ARS) or Asia Minor (PHW). It goes without saying that if inland communities had access to PHW and ARS so did the coastal communities through which this imported pottery moved. When CRS, ARS, and PHW reached inland communities, however, the cost of transporting CRS from the coast increased its price and made its competitors more appealing. When overland transport leveled the playing field between the various forms of Late Roman fine ware available, contemporary communities seemed to prefer PHW and ARS at least as frequently as CRS. 

The result of this is that the tables of residents in inland communities would have looked rather different from those of communities along the coast. The decision making that led to this distinct assemblages hints at the processes that create culture.

Advertisement for Myself: Talk at the University of Texas

At then end of September I’ll be giving a talk at the University of Texas’s Workshop on Late Antiquity. The talk is on September 27th at 5 pm.

The talk will be my first effort to wrangle architectural analysis and a more thorough and comparative study of the large residual assemblage of pottery from the “South Basilica” at the site of Polis into something approaching a coherent form. The paper will hopefully become the basis for a article length submission to a decent journal in the midwinter. As you might expect, I’ll keep my dear readers in the loop as this proceeds. 

One more funny thing. I originally called the talk: Architecture and Assemblage at the Site of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus, but my hosts at Texas thought that this wasn’t a particularly student friendly title. I agreed. So we tweaked it a bit to: 

Reconstructing Community from Busted Pots and Ruined Churches on Cyprus

The last three decades has been something of a golden age in the archaeology of Cyprus. From pioneering intensive surveys to meticulous excavations focused on rural sites that often fell outside the traditional scope of Mediterranean archaeological research, scholars of Cypriot archaeology have engaged current debates surrounding postcolonialism and hybridity, networks of exchange and connectivity, insularity, and the development of the ancient state. The theoretical innovation and methodologically significant fieldwork on Cyprus, however, has done little to project the island from the fringes of most archaeological conversations. While the marginal status of Cypriot archaeology might be understandable for earlier periods like the Cypriot Iron Age which many have seen as peripheral to larger trends in contemporary Aegean and Near Eastern societies, for later periods the robust and sophisticated assemblages produced by recent archaeological work present a solid platform for studying imperial administration, the Mediterranean economy, and the tensions between the local and the global in the context of empire.

This paper will take as a point of departure the ongoing work at the site of Polis-Chrysochous (ancient Arsinoë) on the western side of Cyprus where a team has worked to document both the architecture of one of two Early Christian basilicas and an associated assemblage of Late Roman ceramics. The architecture and assemblage from this site demonstrates the connections between the city of Arsinoë and other sites on Cyprus as well as southern Anatolia. At first glance, these links may appear an unremarkable consequence of the site’s location, but the character of the basilica and the nature of the assemblage reveals more than simply geographic determinism and hints at the material manifestations of the human decisions that constitute culture. The significance of the past 30 years of field work on Cyprus, in this context, becomes clear as it provides an almost unparalleled potential to analyze the material culture of a series of related, yet distinct, sites in the ancient world.

Here’s the classy poster:


The South Basilica at Polis

We’ve officially renamed the EF2 basilica. It is now “the South Basilica” and we’ve officially moved from pondering ceramics and architecture on the ground to writing. 

And this is our first effort to bring together the results of over three years of study (and many years of field work by many people before then)!

We’ve been working on lovely new illustrations of the site plan and our basilica, and they’re almost presentable now:

Figure 1 WRC3


And here’s our most recent text: