Daniel Stewart, on Rural Sites in Roman Greece

Bill Caraher’s review of Daniel Stewart’s recent article on Rural Sites in Roman Greece inspired me to plow through the piece this morning before turning to grading final exams and projects from my course in Historical Archaeology. I won’t repeat Caraher’s insightful points of review of the survey methods section of the article except to note that Stewart’s essay offers a selective, but valuable overview of the study of rural Roman Greece today. There’s an up-to-date bibliography, a good selection of trends in intensive survey method (in respect to Roman Greece), and excellent figures. As a table-lover, I enjoyed his tabular presentation of the periodization schemes for regional survey projects and the comparison of site classification by regional surveys.

On the broadest level, the article outlines the sorts of methodological and interpretive issues that are now vital to consider when studying the Roman landscapes of Greece. Stewart begins in the same place Susan Alcock began her work on Graecia Capta (1993)—with an outline of the problem of the picture of depopulation and decline presented by textual sources of Roman Greece. However, recognizing that this article was not the place to synthesize our knowledge of Roman rural Greece, Stewart sticks to a series of interpretative and methodological issues. Especially important are the concepts of dissonance and fluidity in human and archaeological landscapes:

“The landscape itself is an ephemeral thing: seemingly static but constantly in motion; appearing timeless but subject to radical morphological change. Though walking through a Greek landscape frequently feels like you are stepping through history, it is not the same landscape as that traversed by the inhabitants of Roman Greece. Even the coastline is different. The predominant material evidence itself is also unusual in archaeological terms: a partial surface reflection of subsurface remains that appear as a smear across the landscape, lacking depth, temporality and only crudely associated spatially. Most of what is recovered cannot be dated, only counted (for a summary of issues in landscape archaeology, see Stewart 2013b: 6–14). Unlike urban locales, the places where archaeological evidence exists are not even necessarily the foci of the most significant ancient behaviours – most of our evidence relates to agricultural production, storage and transport, yet these are ‘end-point’ evidence of behaviours that are focused on fields of crops or flocks of animals.”

A range of disjunctures and complexities separate us from past landscapes. In place of master narratives is regionalism, the recognition that things were different in different places. There is no single approach to studying rural landscapes but a multiplicity of “negotiations between the landscapes of the imagination and the physical landscapes we encounter in Greece.” While this is not particularly satisfying, Stewart’s piece neatly represents our new age of reflection on the problems and meaning of survey archaeology data.

My only quibble is that Stewart seems to downplay the value of literary sources. With many other scholars, Stewart notes that textual sources have created our principal interpretative problem for understanding rural landscapes of Roman Greece—the trope of depopulation and decline—and that intensive survey methods mark the best approach to studying landscapes. I value the contribution of regional survey, of course, but I have increasingly seen the value in more integrative approaches to bringing literature and material culture together in our studies of Roman Greece.

If you’re interested, Stewart has written more extensively on the subject in Reading the Landscapes of the Rural Peloponnese: Landscape Change and Regional Variation in an Early “Provincial” Setting. BAR International Series 2504. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2013.  I’ve added this to my January term reading list. Speaking of which, this brief post will be the last from me for the year. The other contributors to this blog may post, but I’m out on vacation. Happy holidays! We’ll see you in January.

A New Book on Rural Villas in Roman Greece

David Smith’s recent article in Archaeological Reports notes the publication of a new book titled Villae Rusticae: Family and market-oriented farms in Greece under Roman rule. Proceedings of an International Congress held at Patras, 23-24 April 2010. Edited by A.D. Rizakis and I.P. Touratsoglou, the publishers (Institute of Historical Research/National Hellenic Research Foundation) describe the content of the volume in this way:

“As that of other provinces of the Empire, the rural economy of Greece underwent many changes as well, with important implications for the strategies and organization of the production, as well as for the distribution and consumption of goods. Thanks to the extraordinary mass of archaeological data collected in Greece in the last decades, and to the possibility of applying both more sophisticated research instruments and more profitable methods of approach and analysis of these data, a re-examination of a regional case study such as Roman Greece is now more feasible. The publication in this volume of material remains – remarkable both for number and quality, from various in size productive complexes– and the synthetic studies on the other hand will provide students of the ancient world with an invaluable material which will greatly contribute to a better understanding of the economic organization of this part of the Roman Empire. It will also represent a point of reference for the study of both the rural world and more specific the economy of the cities of a small but not insignificant Roman administrative unit.”

Running 800 pages long, Smith may be right that Villae Rusticae will become “a standard text for the study of the rural economy of Roman Greece.”At the moment, however, there seem to be few libraries in the world that actually own a copy. I couldn’t find a loaning library in the U.S. via Interlibrary Loan, and the price is a hefty 120 €, plus shipping. An article or two are available for free on the National Hellenic Research Foundation website, and I found one or two more via Academia. It would be wonderful if the publisher would release a PDF version of the entire volume as they did with their Roman Peloponnese series.

The table of contents, available here, lists chapters mainly in Greek, with a few English, Italian, and French contributions.

Archaeological Reports (Journal of Hellenic Studies)

The 2014 volume of Archaeological Reports is now out and promises some interesting new studies of the northeast Peloponnese and Greece.

If you’re not familiar with Archaeological Reports, the journal is published by the British School at Athens and offers “the only account of recent archaeological work in Greece published in English.”

Table of Contents:

“Introduction & overview” (Zosia Archibald)

“2013–2014 — a view from Greece” Catherine Morgan

“Newsround” (David M. Smith and Helen Murphy-Smith)

“Method in the archaeology of Greece”(Zosia Archibald)

“The work of the British School at Athens, 2013–2014” (Catherine Morgan)

“The city of Athens” (Robert Pitt)

“The Classical naval installations in the Piraeus” (Chryssanthi Papadopoulou)

“Central Greece and the Peloponnese (Archaic to Roman)” (David M. Smith)

“Recent epigraphic research in central Greece: Boeotia” (Fabienne Marchand)

“Crete (prehistoric to Hellenistic)” (Matthew Haysom)

“Macedonia and Thrace: Iron Age to post-Roman urban centres” (Zosia Archibald)

“Archaeobotany in Greece” (Alexandra Livarda)

“Rural sites in Roman Greece” (Daniel Stewart)

IF you visit the table of of contents online here, you can click on article titles to see an abstract or opening paragraph.

Two articles that caught my attention:

1. Smith, David M. “Central Greece and the Peloponnese (Archaic to Roman).” Archaeological Reports 60 (November 2014): 55–71. doi:10.1017/S0570608414000088.

The much shorter Archaiologikon Deltion for the single year of 2005 invariably offers far fewer reports on the work of the Archaeological Service than the four-year volume with which we were presented last year. This, in itself, is no bad thing, although the geographical and chronological balance generated by such a large dataset is notable by its absence. This unevenness is, as ever, partially offset by the publication of fieldwork, although certain areas maintain a far more visible archaeological presence than others. This is particularly true for the northeastern Peloponnese, which has, in recent years, been the recipient of an almost unparalleled focus of both research and rescue excavation; a fact reflected in the significant contribution made to this year’s report by the edited proceedings of the conference The Corinthia and the Northeast Peloponnese: Topography and History from Prehistoric Times until the End of Antiquity (Kissas and Niemeier 2013). A total of 56 individual papers provide details on sites that range in date from the Neolithic to the Byzantine period. A great strength of this collection lies in the contribution of so many current and former staff of the Archaeological Service, and, of the numerous papers that engage directly or indirectly with the archaeology of the Archaic to Roman period, several are discussed in greater depth in the course of this report. A complementary Hesperia supplement detailing the current state of prehistoric and historic research on the Corinthian Isthmus is due to appear before the end of the year (Gebhard and Gregory forthcoming), as is a study of material from Henry Robinson’s 1961–1962 excavation in the North Cemetery (Slane forthcoming). The study of religious practice during the Classical period benefits from the publication of the first volume of material from excavations conducted by the Canadian Institute in Greece between 1994 and 2001 in the Sanctuary of Athena at Stymphalos (Schaus 2014a), while the consolidation of synthetic regional studies and individual site reports within Villae Rusticae: Family and Market-oriented Farms in Greece under Roman Rule (Rizakis and Touratsoglou 2013) will no doubt ensure that it becomes a standard text for the study of the rural economy of Roman Greece (see Stewart, this volume).

2. Stewart, Daniel. “Rural Sites in Roman Greece.” Archaeological Reports 60 (November 2014): 117–32. doi:10.1017/S0570608414000131.

[W]hile pretending to throw some light upon classical authors by careful observation of the manners of the present day, romantic travellers succeeded in fact in accommodating reality to their dreams … by creating for themselves and for their readers carefully edited portraits of modern Greece that transformed the present into the living image of the past (Saïd 2005: 291).

Thirty years ago archaeological field survey promised to reshape radically our understanding of the countryside (Keller and Rupp 1983: 1–5). Traditional archaeological approaches to cities and monuments were increasingly seen to be extensions of textual research, and research on the rural landscape was envisaged as a way to access the other side of the traditional urban-rural dichotomy (though see the comments in Alcock 2007: 671–72). Some scholars estimated that, in the Classical period, the vast majority of Greek poleis had populations of less than 3,000 and territories no more than a few hours” walk from the urban core. Given that, they asked, does it make sense to divide elements of Greek life into “city” and “country”? In a sense, the study of landscapes was seen as a way to redress perceived imbalances between this urban-rural division and the picture painted by the ancient sources of Roman Greece as a pale reflection of its Classical brilliance. In the years since, landscape studies have grown to include much more than archaeological field survey, but this tension between textual and archaeological narratives remains at the heart of understandings of rural Roman Greece.

Corinthiaka at the AIA Meeting: New Orleans, January 2015

One of the small benefits of not attending the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America next month is that I will not have to spend Christmas break frantically working on a paper that I was unable to complete during a busy semester. On the other hand, New Orleans in January should be fantastic, with pleasant weather that contrasts with the nightmare AIA in the Snow of Chicago 2014.

The conference website notes 150 archaeology sessions and 800 speakers—which doesn’t include papers of the parallel meeting of the Society for Classical Studies (formerly APA). As in years past, I’ll post the smattering of paper titles on Corinthiaka subjects, but first, I couldn’t resist another word cloud image of the AIA 2015 after playing around with SBL titles last month. This Wordle image is based on all the AIA paper titles stripped (or mostly stripped) of presenter titles, affiliations, institutions, and meaningless keywords. 

AIAWordle

The hit subjects this year are Mediterranean, the Roman period, and the State (I should probably have stripped Ancient and Age which are too generic to be useful). Conference attendees will hear much about – gasp – the traditional places of classical archaeology: Italy, Greece, Crete, Athens, Rome, and the Etruscans (Cyprus, Sicily, Turkey, Spain, and Israel remain secondary). The Roman period is most frequent, but Bronze Age and Classical topics follow close behind (note the smaller Hellenistic period – remarkable given its vast geographic scope – and the tiny Byzantine period that must appear in only a handful of papers). I am glad to see that the “public” makes a modest show and that “evidence” and “analysis” are so important, but the tiny “digital” is surprising given its prominence in the humanities disciplines.

The Corinthiaka papers from the Program include:

  • “Tombs, Burials, and Commemoration in Corinth’s Northern Cemetery”
    (Kathleen Warner Slane, University of Missouri)
  • “Isotopic Investigation of Late Antique Human Population Movement in
    Cemeteries from Corinth, Greece” (Larkin Kennedy, Texas A&M University)
  • “Reliefs from Early Roman Corinth” (Mary C. Sturgeon, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
  • “Corinth’s Economic Basis in the Eastern Adriatic during the Fifth – Second
    Century B.C.E.” (Jeffrey Royal, RPM Nautical Foundation/East Carolina University)
  • “The Ancient Corinth-South Stoa Roof Project: Previous Restoration and Conservation Treatments-New Approaches” (David Scahill, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and Nicol Anastassatou, Corinth Excavations)
  • “Tegulae Mammatae in the Roman Baths at Isthmia” (Jon M. Frey, Michigan State University, and Timothy E. Gregory, Ohio State University)
  • “A Sixth Century Church in Corinth” (Paul D. Scotton, California State University, Long Beach)

See also:

Rinse Willet on the Distribution of Eastern Sigillata A

This new article by Rinse Willet in the journal HEROM looks like a useful overview of different statistical approaches to modeling the distribution of common pottery types in the Roman Mediterranean. The article focuses on the late Hellenistic to early Roman table ware Eastern Sigillata A:

Willet, Rinse. “Experiments with Diachronic Data Distribution Methods Applied to Eastern Sigillata a in the Eastern Mediterranean.” HEROM 3, no. 1 (November 19, 2014): 39–69. doi:10.11116/HEROM.3.3.

This paper addresses and discusses three statistical methods to describe the diachronic development and distribution of the Roman ceramic tableware Eastern Sigillata A (ESA). These methods distribute the data over time based on the typo-chronological properties of the vessels. A linear distribution method was already devised in the late 1980’s and applied in Roman pottery studies. Although other methods were suggested, the linear method was applied uncritically in various studies and therefore this paper will assess alternative methodologies of diachronic data distribution, namely a Gaussian and gamma distribution method. These new methods have the benefit of modelling growth and decline in the circulation of each individual type of vessel, and are applied to ESA in this paper. For this, the data of most published ESA from the eastern Mediterranean are used and a comparative case-study for the ESA excavated at Athens, Antioch and Berenice is presented. The (dis)advantages of the methods are discussed and their usefulness as analytical tools for both artefactual and historical analysis is addressed by providing a brief historical overview of these three sites and introducing the diachronic distributions of ESA into their respective histories. Furthermore the applicability on ceramic and other branches of material culture studies of these methods is addressed.

Roman Tombs in Corinth: Caraher on Walbank on Slane

If you’re a Corinthiaphile who doesn’t read Bill Caraher’s The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World blog, you should check in on it on occasion. Bill has one of the most successful and consistent blogs on ancient Mediterranean world on the interwebs. He has released insightful, smart, and humorous posts almost every day—minus weekends and holidays—since 2007. Bill is also an occasional contributor to Corinthian Matters through cross-posts from his own blog. Now, you’ll get a lot more than Mediterranean archaeology at his blog (he discusses everything from North Dakota Man-Camps to academic life to punk archaeology), but there’s also plenty of new material on Greece, Cyprus, and Corinthiaka specifically.

Some of his recent posts on the Corinthia, for example, include:

Monday’s post had one of the best opening paragraphs I’ve read:

One of the great things about working in and around Corinth is the intensity of the archaeological rivalries. Scholars in the Corinthia and endlessly “getting up in each other’s business.” Over the years this has produced some tremendously exciting, public disputes including the famous “Scotton on Rothaus on Scotton on Rothaus” debate of 2002. So, when an article has a title “A debate with K. W. Slane” and turns Slane’s 2012 article into a question, it is impossible as not to get excited (M.E.H. Walbank, “Remaining Roman in Death at Corinth: A Debate with Kathleen Slane,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 27 (2014), 403-417; K.W. Slane, “Remaining Roman in Death at an Eastern Colony,” JRA 25 (2012), 442-455) . This is like a classic Philadelphia Big 5 basketball game from the 1980s. The stakes are low, but the intensity is high.

I was attracted to the article no only because of the opportunity to get front row seats to a Corinthian showdown, but also because I’ve been thinking about how communities on Cyprus construct identities….

Caraher’s review of Walbank on Slane foregrounds a broad debate (in this case, regarding the interpretation of graves) about how early Roman elite of Corinth constructed identity in light of the complex history of the site: Roman destruction of the Greek city in 146 BC and its refoundation as a Roman colony in 44 BC. A generation or two ago, scholars debated whether the Roman colony reincarnated the previous Greek city, or represented a wholly Roman venture. Further studies have highlighted the complexities of continuity and discontinuity between the former Greek city and Roman colony, and also changes in the way elite constructed identity over time (the second century AD is significantly different than the early colony). This is complex matter. As Caraher sums up the debate,

Slane argues in her 2012 article that Corinthian elites showed a clear affinity for Roman forms suggesting that Early Roman Corinthians continued to look to Italy as they constructed their new Corinthian identities. Walbank suggests, in contrast, that Slane has misread or misunderstood the evidence and, instead, has found much more interleaving of Italian and broadly Greek features in these tombs. In many cases, the debate comes down to different interpretations of features like benches, motifs in wall painting, and funerary practices. The evidence is often ambiguous and fragmentary.

Read the rest of the review here.

The Final Pagan Generation

Over the Thanksgiving break last week, I found a few minutes to harvest a few of the thousands of unread Google alert emails about Corinthiaka. No promises that I’ll make my back through all or most of this vast collection of emails, but I have begun to update the Corinthian Studies Zotero Library as I’ve discovered relevant works (you can filter by CSM_2014_November or “CSM_2014_December, or sort the Library by “Date Added”). I’ll push out a few of these in the next couple of weeks as I recover from the semester.

One little gem turned up in my box yesterday. This new forthcoming book by Edward Watts on fourth century pagans and Christians looks like a great read. Not sure why the keyword Corinth triggered the book, but it may have had something to do with the well-known case of Aristophanes, the Corinthian elite in the imperial service who was accused of astrology, defended by Libanius, and eventually pardoned by the emperor Julian. That case is common to fourth century discussions of Paganism and Corinth, and is most fully discussed in Richard Rothaus’ Corinth: First City of Greece.

The book looks interesting and should contribute significantly to our knowledge of the fourth century, an period of transformation for the Corinthia as for other regions of the Roman world.

Here are the details:

Watts, Edward J. The Final Pagan Generation. Univ of California Press, 2015.

Front CoverThe Final Pagan Generation recounts the fascinating story of the lives and fortunes of the last Romans born before the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Edward J. Watts traces their experiences of living through the fourth century’s dramatic religious and political changes, when heated confrontations saw the Christian establishment legislate against pagan practices as mobs attacked pagan holy sites and temples. The emperors who issued these laws, the imperial officials charged with implementing them, and the Christian perpetrators of religious violence were almost exclusively young men whose attitudes and actions contrasted markedly with those of the earlier generation, who shared neither their juniors’ interest in creating sharply defined religious identities nor their propensity for violent conflict. Watts examines why the “final pagan generation”—born to the old ways and the old world in which it seemed to everyone that religious practices would continue as they had for the past two thousand years—proved both unable to anticipate the changes that imperially sponsored Christianity produced and unwilling to resist them. A compelling and provocative read, suitable for the general reader as well as students and scholars of the ancient world.”

A couple of pre-reviews from the publisher page:

“Edward Watts has produced a scintillating portrait of the transformative fourth century of the Roman Empire. He employs the creative device of looking at the history of an era through the eyes of its own generation—like our Woodstock generation or Gen X—to show how its men and women witnessed, experienced, and engaged with the big and little events of their day. The results are variously quotidian and startling, ordinary and surprising, but never banal or entirely as expected. Understanding the oceanic changes in belief and behavior of the ‘last pagan generation’ in real time helps readers see that world from the perspective of the persons who lived it and not, as we often do, as if in some cosmic rear-view mirror. A real page turner!”—Brent D. Shaw, Andrew Fleming West Professor in Classics at Princeton University

“Edward Watts is a leading authority on the intellectual history of the later Roman Empire. Deeply nuanced and profoundly humane, this book shows what it meant to live through the Roman Empire’s initial transition to Christianity. In clear and eloquent prose, Watts introduces us to a wide range of persons who responded to the Emperor Constantine’s conversion in widely different ways, from hostility or distaste to excitement and profound life changes. Watts provides a fresh and exciting vision of one the great generations of Mediterranean history, whose choices shaped the legacy of antiquity and the future of Christianity. This is a book that should be of interest to anyone who wants to understand the rich variety of religious experience.”—David Potter, Francis W. Kelsey Collegiate Professor of Greek and Roman History at the University of Michigan