Byzantine Corinth: 2011 Publications (and a note on relative frequency of Corinthiaka)

In originally separating the recent scholarship on Byzantine-Modern from the 2011  scholarship on Ancient Corinth, I had forgotten that the pickings were so few.  This is a rather sad list (in terms of quantity), and I will combine these three entries in the permanent page for 2011 archaeology and historical publications.

Byzantine or Early Modern Corinthia, anyone?  Looks like there’s plenty of room for additional research  here.

So, in lieu of a longer list, I’ll take this opportunity to tabulate the relative frequency of books and articles published in 2011 according to specific periods and subjects.  The following counts certain works twice if relevant to different periods / subjects.  Note again that these lists are probably incomplete, but the tabulations below are broadly representative of trends in publication of Corinthiaka:

Bronze Age: 2

Early Iron Age / Geometric: 1

Archaic-Hellenistic: 17

Early Roman: 13 (but see New Testament)

Late Roman: 7

Byzantine: 2

Early Modern: 1

New Testament: 1 Corinthians: 51

New Testament: 2 Corinthians: 23

New Testament: Pauline Corinth: 16

Patristic / Early Christian: 9

Gulf of Corinth: Geology, Environment, Earthquakes, and Miscellany: 24

Abstracts of the AIA / APA 2012 Meetings

I had planned to post reviews of the AIA / APA meetings a little more than a week ago, but illness and the preparations for a new semester sapped all my momentum.  I have a lot of material in the queue including December scholarship monthly and the scholarship rolls of 2011 which I hope to roll out in the next two weeks.

The meetings were excellent in many ways.  I heard great  papers related to new research in the Corinthia, but missed many more that I wanted to see.  I caught the Nemea session in time to hear Effie Athanassopoulos’ discussion of excavation  and survey evidence for habitation and agriculture in the Nemea Valley in the 12th-13th centuries; and Jared Beatrice’s and Jon Frey’s fascinating work on Late Antique and Middle Byzantine burials in the Nemea Valley (largely similar life experiences between periods, but males mysteriously outnumber females in the later period by a factor of 2 to 1).  I happened to be at the poster session when Bice Peruzzi and Amanda Reiterman were awarded second place for their work on the potters’ quarter at Corinth.  I include abstracts for all the papers at the end of this post.

The session sponsored by the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology Interest Group (“Sailing Away from Byzantium”) was excellent in its exploration of the notion of communication and connectivity in its economic, geopolitical, and religious aspects–a theme that I saw covered in many other sessions.  I myself contributed (with Bill Caraher) to a session on peasants.  Our paper on Corinthian peasants in the Classical-Hellenstic, Roman, and Modern periods is available here, and our Powerpoint presentation  here).  The fact that an entire session on “peasants” was a smashing success is some indication that countryside studies are doing well.  If the organizers of the conference thought peasants would not attract crowds (they assigned us to a small room), we were glad to see lines of people out the door trying to get in.

Surprising was that the AIA and APA attendees seem not to have caught the Digital Humanities bug that swept through this year’s meetings of the Modern Language Association and American Historical Association.  Other than one paper session (only 3 papers) related to visual approaches in archaeology and a round table about preparing digital images for publication, no one seemed aware or interested in the big DH.  By contrast, Anthony Grafton, the outgoing president of the American Historical Association, claimed that the introduction of Digital History and Humanities into the meetings of the AHA marked one of the greatest accomplishments of the year, while Stanley Fish in a recent New York Times editorial said the following about DH at the meeting of the Modern Language Association:

So what exactly is that new insurgency? What rough beast has slouched into the neighborhood threatening to upset everyone’s applecart? The program’s statistics deliver a clear answer. Upward of 40 sessions are devoted to what is called the “digital humanities,” an umbrella term for new and fast-moving developments across a range of topics: the organization and administration of libraries, the rethinking of peer review, the study of social networks, the expansion of digital archives, the refining of search engines, the production of scholarly editions, the restructuring of undergraduate instruction, the transformation of scholarly publishing, the re-conception of the doctoral dissertation, the teaching of foreign languages, the proliferation of online journals, the redefinition of what it means to be a text, the changing face of tenure — in short, everything.

Perhaps the digital revolution is still to come for the AIA/APA meetings?  Perhaps most archaeologists and philologists are just not interested?  At the business meeting of the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology interest group, several academic librarians proposed a session for AIA 2013 on meta-data, which might connect the digital work of technologists, librarians, and archaeologists.  The session for 2013 will be co-sponsored by the Forum for Classics, Libraries, and Scholarly Communication.  It would be interesting to see a session on Byzantine archaeology as one of next year’s DH sessions.

Finally, it was a pleasure to meet people at the meetings who knew of this site.  Thanks to everyone for your interests, and as always, we welcome suggestions for contributions.





Reading Faith and Occupation in Late Antique Graffiti

Last month, Bill Caraher posted a working draft of a paper on the Christian landscapes of the Corinthia  in which he discusses a variety of Christian graffiti–crosses,  fish, Chi-Rhos, and prayers inscribed in stone–scratched in mortar and stone on churches, baths, walls, and villas of the Late Antique Corinthia.  Bill argues that these symbols shed light on the new regional contexts of power that craftsmen faced in the fifth and sixth centuries.  Since Kostis Kourelis wrote an interesting response to Bill’s paper, and Diana Wright followed up with handprints in Argos, I can’t help but add something to the discussion.

I’ve been thinking a bit about low-status individuals of the (late) Roman a lot this semester, in part because I’m working on a paper on peasants, in part because I have been teaching a first-year seminar at Messiah College titled “Faith, Education, and Vocation in the World of Late Antiquity.”  In that class, we’ve been exploring how the Christianization of the Roman world and the theological language of calling influenced the way that people thought about work and occupation.  Under the influence of ascetic currents of the later 4th century AD, many aristocratic Christians abandoned otherwise normal and respectable occupations like oratory and the law courts to join religious communities or make a home in the desert.  St. Augustine’s famous conversion, for example, occurred in conjunction with his renunciation of career as teacher of rhetoric and with the recognition that he could ‘serve the Lord with his pen.’   By exploring the concept of vocation in the past, students reflect on the different forces today that shape their life occupations.

The theme of the class works well for a school like Messiah, where vocational language and the ‘sense of calling’ frames campus-wide discussions.  But the theme also works well historically for framing discussing of a range of Christian texts of the 3rd-5th centuries.  For Christian authors of this period frequently thought and wrote about the calling of the Word to salvation and its specific consequences for work and occupation.

A major problem, however, is that most of our stories are written by and about aristocratic men, and even the few sources written by or about women—e.g., Egeria’s pilgrimage to the holy land, Perpetua’s martyrdom, or the letters of Jerome—tend to describe and refer to elite renunciations of elite lifestyles.  We have very little information about the rest of the population, the 95% who were not elite but spent their lives working in the fields, creating craft, constructing buildings, and laboring in skilled and unskilled occupations.  Did the ascetic revolution of the fourth century have any impact on how the majority of Christians understood the meaning of their occupation?

We only get fleeting and deflected glimpses of the rest of the population through texts of the period.  John Chrysostom, preacher of Antioch, for instance, speaks to the artisans in his congregation and tells them that they too have the responsibility of pursuing a life of virtue for “even Paul was a tent-maker…Let no one, therefore, of those who have trades be ashamed.” (In 1 Cor. hom. 5.11).  Chrysostom says that the  working artisan can be truly happy when he applies  himself entirely to the task at hand, thinks of work as a kind of asceticism, and uses his gifts (the ability to construct) to preserve life (In 2 Cor. hom. 15.4-5).  But in such sermons, we are seeing the potential vocation of the craftsman reflected through the eyes of an educated bishop.

Enter the Corinthian archaeological material, which provides no clear window.   This image shows a fish on the Hexamilion wall across the Isthmus, but what exactly does it mean and why did the builder insert it?


Many such religious signs were not even intended to be seen, but, like the concrete body of this modern church in the village of Sophiko in the southern Corinthia, the religious language (in this case, the Greek abbreviation for “Jesus Christ conquers”) will eventually be covered by a marble or brick façade.DSCN7730

In the context of late antiquity, what would have gone through the mind of a craftsman who scratched such patterns in the work he was creating?  Since such signs appear so frequently in 5th and 6th century contexts, they must be part of a common language of finishing monumental buildings.

Here is what Bill has to say about the meanings of these symbols in a late antique context.  I quote (with his approval) from his paper (pp. 17-18):

“These markers in the mortar of the exterior wall of the basilica would have been visible for only a short period of time as they would have almost certainly been covered with either a layer of finer stucco or the surrounding ground level when the building was completed. The symbol of the fish may have religious significance as it was one of the earliest symbols associated with Christianity. We have no idea whether these symbols were set to mark out these buildings as ‘Christian’ (as if this was necessary for the Lechaion Basilica), to serve some kind of as apotropaic function or to mark the work of a particular crew of laborers. These modest graffiti might well suggest that the same groups of workers or, perhaps, the same organization provided labor for both buildings.

Whatever their function, it is clear, however, that the monumental architecture of the Corinthia not only projected power across the region and onto (and through) the bodies of laborers, but it also provided a new context for the everyday actions Corinthian workers. The subtle traces left by individuals working on the walls provide a glimpse of the physical labor responsible for the construction of imperial authority on the Isthmus. The appearance of the graffiti fish in inconspicuous places on a number of contemporary buildings suggests a division between the explicit message made by the architecture anddecoration and the simpler, hidden graffito.”

While Bill suggests that these actions reflect on new contexts of power and resistance, it is obvious that a craftsman would also have understood his action most immediately as imprinting the language or signs of faith on his work.  Moreover, in  certain contexts, like the construction of the monumental religious building of Late Antiquity—the enormous Lechaion church, for instance—he could only have felt himself directly contributing in his trade to a monumental and communal expression of faith albeit one that reflected the hierarchical social world of his day.  I wonder, too, whether, he may have thought about the metaphors of building in the language of the bible, and in particular, the temples.  Would he have made (or been instructed about) any connection to Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 3:9-10?

“You are God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.”

How exactly he thought about this participation is totally beyond our grasp, but here we have one tiny arena where a potential connection between ordinary work and the faith of the builders is visible.  These connections would have naturally intersected with the social and political dimensions of building.  Participating in the grand project of ecclesiastical church building would have intertwined thoughts about the bishop, the emperor, the nature of building, and the triumph of Christ.

In the last two weeks of class, we’re dedicating some class time to discussing these kinds of problematic glimpses into the worlds of ordinary occupations.  When I asked my first-year seminar today what they thought about the fish and the cross graffiti buried in the plaster, they commented on the significance of its invisibility (not for show), the meaning of the act of construction, and the probability of some association with the faith of the craftsman.  One student commented that the builders sought to leave a piece of themselves in the work.  That observation may be as close as we get in a local context to understanding the connection of faith to the work of the builder.

Some Perspective on American Excavations in Corinth: Byzantium and the Avant Garde

I couldn’t make it last week to Grand Forks to hear Franklin & Marshall College professor Kostis Kourelis speak on the topic of Byzantium and the Avant Garde.  Thanks to Bill Caraher and the Center for Instructional and Learning Technologies at the University of North Dakota for streaming the lecture live.  The video, audio, and presentation are all available here

Kourelis_Avant Garde

Readers of Hesperia, the journal devoted to publishing the research of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, will recognize Kourelis’ talk as a “live version” of an article published several years ago called “Byzantium and the Avant-Garde: Excavations at Corinth, 1920s-1930s,” Hesperia 76 (2007), pp. 391-442.  Hesperia has, in fact, made that article available for free download on this page.  The abstract of the article also works as a summary of his talk last week:

“In the 1920s and 1930s, members of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens engaged in a dialogue with the avant-garde through the shared discovery of Byzantium. This extraordinary experiment took place in excavations at Corinth, where American archaeologists invented the systematic discipline of medieval archaeology, facilitated an inclusive identity for the American School, and contributed to a bohemian undercurrent that would have a long afterlife. This article situates the birth of Byzantine archaeology in Greece within the general discourse of modernism and explores the mechanisms of interchange across disciplinary and national boundaries, between subjective and objective realms.”

In a nut shell, Kostis argues that the traditional disdain for Late Antique and Byzantine archaeology by classical archaeologists working in Greece was not always a consistent thread of American classical archaeology.  Just as societal processes shaped the veneration of the classical past in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so a range of broader factors—early 20th century aestheticism, architectural trends, the artistic avant-garde, and the mental association of Byzantium with modernism—led briefly, in the 1920s and 1930s, to an interest in the Byzantine period.  Many early excavators, draftsmen, architects, and illustrators working in Greece (Lucy Talcott, Alison Frantz, Piet de Jong) during these decades had links to the Greek avant garde who were also newly interested in the Byzantine tradition.

As Kourelis says at one point, a generation of Americans who went to Greece looking for the Parthenon ended up discovering the Medieval period.  This broader intellectual inclusivism of Byzantine Corinth was short-lived (dying with World War II and the Cold War politics that followed: think Byzantium and Russia) but eventually did reemerge in American researchers circles in the 1980s.  Think in recent decades: Charles Williams II, Timothy Gregory, and Guy Sanders.

Here’s what I think could be especially valuable in his lecture and article for a non-specialist audience:

1. This is a great little overview of the way that culture has historically influenced archaeological practice.  People often think of archaeology as a flat scientific enterprise—as though archaeologists excavating in Greece were all “objective” researchers simply carrying out their work for the sake of generating knowledge.  Here we meet archaeologists influenced by broader trends in attitude and practice toward particular periods.  As Kourelis puts it in his article (p. 393):

“Ultimately, it was the artistic avant-garde that ushered Byzantine Greece into the cultural limelight and rehabilitated its research within American priorities. Corinth’s medieval excavations of 1925-1940 were conceived under the spell of modernist aesthetics and much less under the guidance of academic inquiry.”

2. For anyone unfamiliar with the history of excavation, it is easy to forget that the ruins of Roman Corinth visible today at the site were once covered by an incredible amount of post-antique material and settlement.  This “Byzantine labyrinth of houses” was cleared in the central area to get down to the Roman levels.  The discoveries of the Byzantine city were published in several Corinth volumes, and the article provides a useful summary of that process. 

3. Great images and plans of excavations at Corinth in the 1920s and 30s.  Also pictures of the reconstructed Byzantine house (once a museum) near the Peirene spring now known as “Carpenter’s Folly”.  The lecture and article explain the source of the name “folly”.

4.  There’s some stuff here (beside the above) for New Testament scholars.  St. Paul’s Cathedral in New Corinth itself dates to 1930 and reflects the same trends in Greece.  Kourelis provides a good quote by Henry Miller from the 30s on a lush corrupt sexualized Corinth.  That image of the city is an old one.

For further discussion, see the online lecture or publication.  Kostis blogs at Objects-Buildings-Situations.

Kostis Kourelis on Byzantium and the Avant Garde

Professor Kostis Kourelis of Franklin and Marshall College will speak today at 4 PM CST on the American School Excavations at Corinth in the 1930s.  The presentation at the University of North Dakota is the 2011 Cyprus Research Fund Lecture.  As Bill Caraher notes at here, he “will tell the unlikely story of how the excavation of Byzantine remains at Corinth, Greece influenced avant garde movements in mid-20th century America.”

If you’re interested in hearing it, you can listen to a live stream of the lecture at The New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World at 4 PM CST

Kourelis The Cyprus Research Fund

Corinthian Scholarship (October)

Bronze Age



New Testament

Geology, Geomorphology, and Environment in the Corinthia and Gulf of Corinth

  • Panayotis Papadimitriou, George Kaviris, Andreas Karakonstantis & Kostas Makropoulos, “The Cornet seismological network: 10 years of operation, recorded seismicity and significant applications” in Hellenic Journal of Geoscience
  • C. Grützner, T. Fernández Steeger, I. Papanikolaou, K. Reicherter, P.G. Silva, R. Pérez-López, and A. Vött (editors), Earthquake Geology and Archaeology: Science, Society and Critical Facilities, Athens 2011.  These short articles feature the research presented in late September at the Second International Workshop on Active Tectonics, Earthquake Geology, Archaeology and Engineering 19th-24th September 2011.  Articles that may be of interest to readers interested in the ancient Corinthia and Gulf of Corinth:
    • Gielisch, Hartwig, “Acrocorinth – Geological History and the Influence of Paleoseismic Events to Recent Archaeological Research,” pp. 57-59.
    • Hadler, Hanna, Andreas Vött, Benjamin Koster, Margret Mathes-Schmidt, Torsten Mattern, Konstantin Ntageretzis, Klaus Reicherter, Dimitris Sakellariou, Timo Willershäuser, “Lechaion, the Ancient Harbour of Corinth (Peloponnese, Greece) destroyed by Tsunamigenic Impact,” pp. 70-73. 
    • Koster, Benjamin, Klaus Reicherter, Andreas Vött, Christoph Grützner, “The Evidence of Tsunamigenic Deposits in the Gulf of Corinth (Greece) with Geophysical Methods for Spatial Distribution,” pp. 107-110.
    • Nomikou, P., M. Alexandri, V. Lykousis, D. Sakellariou, and D. Ballas, “Swath Bathymetry and Morphological Slope Analysis of the Corinth Gulf,” pp. 155-158.
    • Papanikolaοu, Ioannis D., Maria Triantaphyllou, Aggelos Pallikarakis, and Georgios Migiros, “Active Faulting towards the Eastern Tip of the Corinth Canal: Studied through Surface Observations, Borehold Data and Paleoenvironmental Interpretations,” pp. 182-185.
    • Sakellariou, Dimitris, Lykousis Vasilis, and Rousakis Grigoris, “Holocene Seafloor Faulting in the Gulf of Corinth: The Potential for Underwater Paleoseismology,” pp. 218-221.
    • Valkaniotis, Sotiris, George Papathanassiou, and Spyros Pavlides, “Active Faulting and Earthquake-Induced Slope Failures in Archaeological Sites: Case Study of Delphi, Greece,” pp. 255-258. Also available here.
    • Vött, Andreas, Peter Fischer, Hanna Hadler, Mathias Handl, Franziska Lang, Konstantin Ntageretzis, and T. Willershäuser, “Sedimentary Burial of Ancient Olympia (Peloponnese, Greece) by High-Energy Flood Deposits – the Olympia Tsunami Hypothesis,” pp. 259-262.
    • Wiatr, Thomas, Klaus Reicherter, Ioannis D. Papanikolaοu,  & Tomás Fernández-Steeger, “The Discontinuity of a Continuous Fault: Delphi (Greece),” pp. 276-279.

Byzantium in Transition at the University of Cyprus

This is a pretty interesting conference being held this weekend at the University of Cyprus.  Apparently, it will be the first in a trilogy of conferences designed “to shed more light on the ‘invisible’ eras or period of major transformations in economy, society, and culture after the end of Late Antiquity by (re)evaluating old and new archaeological data, namely dated to (a) the Byzantine Early Middle Ages, middle 7th-8th centuries, (b) the Middle to Late Byzantine or Early Frankish era, Late 12th – early 13th centuries, and (c) the Late Byzantine/Frankish to Early Ottoman period, middle 14th – late 15th centuries.”

The schedule of speakers looks pretty impressive (although a bit light on people doing active field research in Cyprus) with most of the usual suspects represented (include two representatives to of the Corinthian School of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies: Guy Sanders and Tim Gregory).

The poster is snazzy.

Workshop Poster

It’s always useful to notice the way in which these kinds of conferences organize sessions because they both capture the areas of specialty among the participants and the questions central to research in the field. Sessions on urban and rural space suggest, at least, that tradition ways of viewing ancient settlement with the conceptual divide between town and country continues to persist (although it is possible that the papers could critique the title of the session). The next session on “trade networks and the economy” suggests more fluid and integrated view of economic relationships that might offer a counterpoint to the seeming rigid city/countryside divide. The final session bring the term “material culture” to the conference and opens up the potential to consider how objects both embody and communicate cultural expectations.  It remains to be seen how fully the participant embrace the complex concept of material culture or just use it as a synonym for architecture and small-finds.

The program is as follows:

Byzantium in Transition

Introductory Session: Setting the Scene

Islam and its relations with ByzantiumAlexander Beihammer (University of Cyprus)

Latin Christendom and its relations with Byzantium, c. 700-900 AD
Richard Hodges (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, USA)
keynote speaker (hospitality sponsored by the Cyprus Tourism Organisation)

Approaches to Early Medieval Byzantium
John Haldon (Princeton University, USA)

Session I: Urban and Rural Space

Urban and rural space: surface survey and its problematics
John Bintliff (University of Leiden, The Netherlands)

City and countryside in Greece
Guy Sanders (American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece)

Island and coastal landscapes in Greece and Cyprus
Timothy Gregory (Ohio State University, USA)

City and countryside in Asia Minor: Amorium as model or misfit?
Christopher Lightfoot (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, USA)

City and countryside in the western fringes
Paul Arthur (University of Salento, Italy)

Session II: Trade Networks and Economy

A ceramic koine as evidence for continuity and economy
Athanasios Vionis (University of Cyprus)

Amphorae and trade networks
Stella Demesticha (University of Cyprus)

Pottery in seventh-century Cyprus: ceramic economies in a Sea of change
Marcus Rautman (University of Missouri, USA)

Towards a new definition of Mission Creep: trade with the western peripheries
Pamela Armstrong (University of Oxford, Wolfson College, UK)

Coins, exchanges and the transformation of the Byzantine economy (7th-10th c.)
Cecile Morrisson (CNRS, France)

Session III: Artistic Testimonies and Material Culture

The culture of Iconoclasm
Leslie Brubaker (University of Birmingham, UK)

Church planning and sculpture in Late Antique Cyprus: their connections with the regional environment
Jean-Pierre Sodini (Universite de Paris- I, Sorbonne, France)

Early Christian basilicas: changes or continuities in post-Justinianic Cyprus?
Doria Nicolaou (Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, Italy)

The art of metalwork in Byzantium
Marlia Mango (University of Oxford, St John’s College, UK)

Early Medieval archaeological evidence from central Greece
Olga Karagiorgou (Academy of Athens, Greece)


Cross-posted to the New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World.

Niketas Ooryphas Strikes Again

This last weekend, I had a chance to go to Chicago, see some old friends, and participate in the Byzantine Studies Conference.  I heard some excellent papers at the BSC including one on the monastic clothing in Byzantium, the historical and linguistic bases for Catholic and Orthodox conflict (with the hope for better modern dialogue), mathematics in Byzantium, a new theory on the theme system, and an iconoclastic paper redating the Arab conquest of Syria.  Diana Wright, fellow blogger at Surprised by Time, gave an excellent presentation about the throne room in Mistra, arguing convincingly from documentary and archaeological evidence for a Venetian commission and production. 

In my own paper, I gave the 9th century Byzantine admiral, Niketas Ooryphas, another spin.  If you followed this blog back in January, I ran a series of posts on Niketas (I, II, III, and IV) based on a paper written for the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America.  In that paper, I tried to separate Niketas from the other known porters of ships over the Corinthian Isthmus in the Greek and Roman world.  I was trying in that paper to problematize the conventional interpretation of the diolkos as a kind of less efficient “ship canal” of the premodern world.  On the other hand, in this paper written for Byzantinists, titled “Basil’s Thunderbolt: Niketas Ooryphas and the Portage of the Corinthian Isthmus,” I strayed from the diolkos and tried to place the legend of Niketas portaging the Isthmus into its Byzantine literary and historical environment.

Niketas is a heroic figure in the Life of Basil who knows devices and tricks like no other.  The best example is the portage over the Isthmus.  But he is also a most troublesome figure of Byzantine history because he punishes his enemies in awful ways by, for example, flaying them alive and dipping them into boiling pitch.  Because the narrator relates these punishments to religious faith (both Christian Orthodox vs. Muslim, and Christian Orthodox vs. Christian apostates), Niketas represents a kind of inverse of the accounts of the martyrdoms of Christians by emperors and provincial governors in the 3rd and early 4th century. 

Madrid Skylitzes_Niketas

Part of an illustration from the Madrid manuscript of John Skylitzes’ Synopsis of History showing Niketas Oorpyhas casting judgments on Christian apostates. 

One rewarding discovery of my research is recognizing that much of what we know about Niketas is legendary.  The portage of the Isthmus is entirely a legend, and I do not doubt that the horrific punishments themselves have been invented to make the Emperor Basil appear mightier than he was.  I hope to demonstrate this by developing the piece into a little article in the future. 

In the meantime, here’s the web version of the BSC paper, stripped of its notes.

Sampling the Byzantine Landscape

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working with David Pettegrew on a short paper that considers the role of intensive pedestrian survey in documenting and creating Byzantine landscapes in the countryside of Corinth.  One of the challenges of this analysis is our scatters of Byzantine pottery tend to be rather small and sometimes amount to only four or five sherds.

The small quantity of Byzantine material present at any one place in the landscape makes it difficult to discuss the function of places in the countryside, to determine the relationship between survey assemblages and more robust samples of material from excavated settings, and to understand the extent, duration and intensity of activities in the landscape. As a result, survey projects have had to consider ways to evaluate periods that manifest in small assemblages of pottery.

A whole series of issues likely contribute to certain periods appearing mainly as small, low-density assemblages. It is almost certain that we have failed to recognize certain types of diagnostic material on the surface or even during pottery study and as a result certain types of pottery are not associated with particular periods. Certain periods also enjoyed problematic natural and cultural site formation processes. For example, sites occupied for a short time or seasonally from particular period could produce less ceramic material.  Later activities could obscure the presence of particular periods in the countryside as well.  Periods where groups settled on the

In a 2006 Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology article, David Pettegrew, Dimitri Nakassis, and I argued that survey units that produced small, but highly diverse assemblages of pottery because of with low surface visibility might actually contain higher density, very diverse assemblages lurking beneath their obscured surfaces. We suggested in these situations that it might be wise to increase our sampling intensity from the typical 2-meter wide swaths through the unit spaced at 10 m intervals to compensate for the effect of the obscured surface on the overall sample size in the unit. In other words, as densities fell because of poor visibility, we just increase our intensity.

In 2005, David Pettegrew and I concocted a series of experiments at our survey site in Cyprus to determine whether increasing the intensity of our collection strategy actually produced more robust assemblages.  In these experiments – documented in an article in the Report of the Department of Antiquity of Cyprus in 2007 – we determined that grubbing around on the ground and collecting all artifacts from a 5% sample of the units surface produced interesting results.

First, our hands-and-knees 5% samples produced far more pottery than our 20% sample (where were walked across the unit counting sherds) predicted.

Second, and more importantly, the assemblages produced by these 5% total collection areas were more diverse than those produced by our effort to sample the artifacts present in our 20% samples of the unit. On the one hand, we discovered that our smaller total collection areas did not produce significantly more chronological information. In other words, we were not seeing periods in our super intensive 5% sample that did not appear in our less intensive 20% sample.  On the other hand, our 5% hands-and-knees collection strategy did produce more diversity than our typical survey and sampling strategy. Our samples of 20% of the surface produced 11.2 chronotypes (or distinct types of pottery recognized by our ceramicist) per unit, whereas our more intensive (if smaller) sample produced 15.6 chronotypes per unit.

Our sample sizes remains extremely small, but they are nevertheless suggestive. I looked at the least diagnostic types of pottery (coarse, medium coarse, and kitchen/cooking wares) in each of our experimental units and compared the total number of chronotypes present in each of these classes with the number of chronotypes present in the larger 20% sample.  I discovered that for coarse ware, there was a 5% increase in the number of chronotypes, for medium coarse a 35% increase, and for kitchen/cooking wares a 33% increase. There was a 50% increase in the diversity of the fine ware assemblages produced by a more rigorous effort to collect pottery from the surface of the ground.

What this all suggests is that small quantities of pottery based on our typical sampling and collection strategies might represent the tip of an iceberg hidden by collection strategies that ill-suited to documenting hidden landscapes. Of course, one upshot of the need to increase the intensity of surface collection is that it makes it difficult to conduct data collection on the regional level from problematic or less visible periods. This contributes to what Blanton has called “Mediterranean Myopia” or a tendency for Mediterranean survey archaeologists to focus on smaller and smaller areas while still attempting to address regional level survey questions.

Cross-posted to the New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World

Corinth’s Byzantine Countryside

The distribution of Byzantine sites in Corinth’s immediate hinterland is poorly known. No Byzantine monuments exist in the Isthmia valley immediately to the east of the City of Corinth in contrast to the numerous Byzantine churches discovered during the early phases of excavation of the city center or the cluster of standing churches around the village of Sophiko to the south. The absence of any standing Byzantine remains might be an accident of preservation. It could also suggest that the immediate hinterland of Corinth had few nucleated settlements like monasteries and villages. It seems possible that Byzantine Corinthians lived in the city of Corinth, the village of Kenchreai, and perhaps a settlement centered on the eastern part of the Hexamilion wall near the long-abandoned Panhellenic sanctuary at Isthmia.

Over the past week or so, I’ve been working on analyzing the distribution of Byzantine pottery discovered during the work of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. In the chronological scheme used by the survey, material from the Byzantine period was divided into two periods: Early Medieval (700-1200) and Late Medieval (1200-1500). In the map below, the red triangles are the Early Medieval artifacts and the green are Late Medieval.

Byzantine Pottery

There are four main areas in the fertile plain east of the city of Corinth that show Early and Late Medieval ceramic material. One area may be associated with a now-destroyed church dedicated to Ag. Paraskevi. In a series of fields disturbed by plowing and recent construction, there is a complex and extensive assemblage of Early and Late Medieval material as well as a significant assemblage of Late Roman material. The assemblage included relatively common glazed finewares from the Early and Middle Byzantine period as well as table wares and utility wares. Some 2 km northwest of the Ay. Paraskevi assemblage, appears another cluster of pottery perhaps associated with ecclesiastical architecture. In a 100 square meter amidst architecture fragments suggesting monumental Christian architecture appear another similar scatter of Byzantine material which featured fineware, kitchen wares, utility vessels from both the Early and Late Medieval periods. As similar small assemblage appears on the steep slopes to the northwest of the Late Roman harbor of Kenchreai. In these units, another 200 square meter area produced a small scatter of Medieval material including finewares and utility wares. Finally, a deeply ploughed field at the base of Mt. Oneion measuring about 350 square meters produced an assembalge of Early Medieval and Late Medieval fine and ultility wares as well as a few sherds from the Venentian and Ottoman periods. Like the other scatters, this assemblage shows both Early and Late Medieval pottery with both table ware and utility wares.

The remarkable thing about these four little clusters of Byzantine pottery is how different the distribution was from period of earlier and later periods.  This is the same map showing Late Roman pottery.

Late Roman

This is a textbook example of a continuous carpet of artifacts and is typical of the Late Roman period throughout Greece. (For some critical comments on this see David Pettegrew’s “The Busy Countryside of Late Roman Corinth,” Hesperia 76 (2007), 743-784 for a PDF go here).

What is also remarkable is how different the distribution is from that of later periods.  The distribution of material from the Ottoman/Venetian period (1500-1800) for example does not overlap entirely with material from the Byzantine period.


It is only in the Early Modern period (1800-1960) where later material becomes an important component of the Byzantine sites, but this seems to be associated with a general expansion of activity in the Corinthian countryside. (For a more extensive discussion of this see T. E. Gregory, “Contrasting Impressions of Land Use in Early Modern Greece: The Eastern Corinthia and Kythera,” Hesperia Supplement 40 (2007), 173-198.)

Early Modern Pottery

This very preliminary analysis of the Byzantine material from EKAS resonates with recent studies of the Byzantine countryside in the Nemea Valley immediately to the south. (For this see E. Athanassopoulos, “ Landscape Archaeology in the Medieval Countryside: Settlement and Abandonment in the Nemea Region,” IJHA 14 (2010), 255-270.) Athanassopoulos suggested that the 12th and 13th century landscape of the Nemea valley clustered on arable land or on the lower slopes of valley sides (258). Moreover, the sites tended to represent small and medium scale agricultural production (261).

It is also important to realize that my brief analysis here is preliminary. Sanders has established the basic unreliability of most existing typologies and chronologies for pottery of this period as well as difficulties identifying artifacts datable to the Medieval period in general. A the same time, it is nevertheless striking that such pronounced clusters of Byzantine material would appear in the Corinthian landscape. More importantly, these clusters appear largely independent of the continuous carpet of Late Roman finds and the clusters of post-Byzantine material published by Gregory and, earlier, analyzed by Caraher.

Cross-Posted to New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World.