I just finished reading Kim Bowes’ Private Worship, Public Values, and Religious Change in Late Antiquity (Cambridge 2008). The first lines of her introduction recounted one of my favorite stories from Late Antiquity: Pulcheria’s dream inspired excavation of the remains of 40 martyrs from Sozomen (Hist. Eccl. 9.2). Any book that begins with a example of dream archaeology is o.k. to me.
But, I’ll admit that this incident was not why I read this book. Instead, I wanted to gather recent insights into the relatively late date for monumental architecture in Greece. Bowes does not talk about Greece directly in her book, but argues for the prevalence and importance of churches associated with elite domestic contexts throughout better documented regions of the Mediterranean.
These buildings are important because they represent an architectural counterpoint to the bishop’s church which stood as a product of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the centralized authority traditionally associated with that institution. Acknowledging the widespread existence of church buildings funded by the Late Roman elite and prominently associated with both rural and urban elite domestic contexts reminds us that the spread of Christianity was not the simple, linear growth of the institutional church, but a process riven with disputes. In fact, the victory of institutional Christianity overwrote evidence for many of the disputes in the process of producing a single triumphant narrative for the victor of the church.
Bowes’ book also continues to enrich our understanding of space by reminding us of the fluidity between public and private spaces in the discourse of power in Late Antiquity. Issues of display, patronage, and both public and spiritual mediation played out over a monumental landscape produced as much by private funds and initiatives as institutional authority of the church. As a result, efforts in the law codes to suppress privately funded church buildings were as much political moves as economic ones as the institutional church sought to suppress rival spaces of power in the Early Christian landscape.
The book also contributes to our understanding of the later 5th and early 6th century boom in ecclesiastical architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean. While Bowes does not discuss these periods explicitly – her book concludes in the middle decades of the 5th century – it may be that the boom in church building occurred as the institutional church made the final push for an exclusive claim to monumental architecture. The story the church of St. Polyeuctos in Constantinople and the rivalry between Anicia Juliana’s private church and the imperial church of Justinian is suggestive of just this kind of rivalry.
In the Corinthia, and in Greece more generally, it is exceedingly difficult to differentiate between churches associated with the local, non-ecclesiastical elite, and those constructed by bishops or under the auspices of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Evidence from epigraphy does suggest that non-church officials did build churches, but this tells us little about who controlled the church, its clergy, and the rites that took place there. There is some suggestive evidence, however: for example, groups of smaller, rural churches dot the Greek countryside – like those that throughout southeastern Attica – and many are not clearly associated with known settlements suggesting the kind of elite-controlled rural churches that Bowes has linked to villas in the West. Moreover, we know that there existed a villa-culture in Greece and that some civic power likely moved from the urban core to suburban and even ex-urban villas of the elite. It would be natural then for these buildings which already served some “public” functions to include religious space as well, although as far as I know we have no specific evidence for this function among the handful of Late Roman villas thoroughly excavated in Greece. The evidence for 6th century church building in better excavated and documented urban areas – like the group of contemporary churches located in the Corinthia – could, then, represent an institutional response to largely undocumented elite, private, rural practices.
While this all remains tremendously speculative, but it does allow us to explain how Christianity grew in Greece without evidence for monumental ecclesiastical architecture. The needs for Christian communities was largely met by church buildings associated with the traditional and increasingly rural elite rather than the new-fangled authority of the emergent, but not yet locally-powerful ecclesiastical hierarchy.
I am slowly working to prepare a paper for the Corinth in Contrast conference scheduled for the end of the September. (It’s my problem that I’m working on the paper this far in advance, not yours.) It is notable that most of the scholarship of the Late Roman period in the Corinthia rooted in archaeological evidence continues to make two major arguments: (1) the Corinthia remained prosperous much longer than an earlier generation of scholars thought and (2) At some point in Late Antiquity, and through a variety of processes, the Corinthia became Christian.
The first argument is an economic version of the old “decline of the Roman Empire” debate. To simplify, this argument demonstrates that Corinth remained economically prosperous far longer than people expected. This prosperity depended upon its place within the larger economic world of the Roman Eastern Mediterranean (which included numerous other sites that continued to prosper longer than scholars have traditionally thought). The continued prosperity of Corinth and the Eastern Empire allowed for the city to continue to fulfill many functions traditionally associated with the Classical or Roman city albeit perhaps through different institutions. In other words, the city was not in decline (at least economic decline), but was undergoing changes in institutional structure. This proposition typically contributes to an updated version of the “decline of the Roman Empire” debate which centers on more qualitative arguments over continuity or change in the Roman world. Typically, scholars have continued to see prosperity in the Late Roman Corinthia well into the 6th century A.D. The evidence for this argument largely comes from revised dating of ceramics. By assigning ceramics later dates, we can not only show that trade continued later than expected, but also revise the dating of buildings and other civic activities to show that urban life continued later than expected.
The second argument is related, but largely independent from debates over prosperity in the Corinthia. Increasingly, scholars have argued that Corinth Christianized rather later than other cities. The largely 6th century date for the construction of Early Christian basilicas is the main evidence for the Christianization of Corinth at a late date. In other words, monumental architecture provides evidence for the presence of the Christian church as an institution in Corinth, and this must have represented a critical mass of Christians among the population and accelerated the conversion of lingering pagans. Some scholars have even seen the large scale and number of baptisteries around the city of Corinth (at the Lechaion, Kraneion, Skoutelas, and Kenchreai basilicas) as being a functional response to the large number of converts present in the community.
In general, there has been only minor efforts to generalize from the larger historical consequences of these two debates. The questions linked to these two positions are numerous and significant. For example, if Corinth is so deeply interconnected with the larger Mediterranean, why does it Christianize later than many other major Mediterranean urban areas? Does the relatively late date of Christianization suggest that economic ties did not facilitate cultural or religious change? Did the continue prosperity of Corinth stand so independent from imperial ties that the construction of monumental Christian architecture by the local elite did not represent a strategy to improve one’s status both across the empire and at home? Did the religious ties to the west (through the position of the Church of Corinth as subordinate to the Papacy in the West) and economic and political relationship between Corinth and centers in the East?
Nate Andrade had a nice article in the most recent volume of the Journal of Early Christian Studies, titled, “The Processions of John Chrysostom and the Contested Spaces of Constantinople”. In it, Andrade considers the role of processions, particularly those led by the controversial Patriarch John Chrysostom, in transforming urban spaces inscribed with “secular” or even pagan significance into spaces of Christian ritual. He set Chrysostom’s actions against the dual backdrops of his longstanding criticism of secular institutions ranging from the baths to the theater and games (many of which date to his days in Antioch) and Chrysostom’s battles with members of the Theodosian court in Constantinople. The use of processions, highlighted by singing psalms, obvious displays of Christian regalia, and perhaps even the Christian scents of incense, combated the secular or even demonic associations that Chrysostom saw in the chaotic, temptation filled, world of the Late Antique city.
Andrade’s subtle article relies on the unprecedented textual sources for the city of Constantinople in the 5th century and the relatively substantial accounts of Chrysostom’s controversial term as bishop of the city. (A similarly, if now somewhat dated account of the relationship between the city and church appears in Tim Gregory’s Vox Populi). It’s tempting to imagine how Chrysostom’s use of processions in Constantinople would translate to cities where our textual evidence is more limited. For example, do the acclamations inscribed in public spaces in Aphrodisias (and so carefully analyzed by C. Roueché) commemorate a kind of processional practice similar to those employed by Chrysostom?
It is particularly valuable to consider how public processions expanded the range of liturgical practice from the space of the church building to the urban space and the community. As early as the early 4th-century, Licinius considered it a useful strategy of expel Christians from their churches and force them to hold their services outdoors or outside the walls of the city (Eusebius, VC, 1.53). This suggests that Chrysostom was not the first to challenge the secular or pagan nature of the city through Christian assemblies held outside the space of the church. J. Baldovin argues for a kind processional warfare between various groups of Christians in the city of Constantinople during the 5th century (Baldovin, The Urban Character of Christian Worship, 183-184). Andrade’s article as well as earlier and later evidence suggests that urban space could well accommodate Christian liturgical practices which the clergy viewed as tool to sanctify secular or pagan places. This turns on its head the idea that Christian sacred space, namely church buildings, represented sacred spaces that were a kind of pre-condition for liturgical practices. While the presence of relics, iconography, and both functional and mnemonic architecture surely reinforced the suitability of the church for liturgical activities, the Christianized space did not require these features. In other words, Christian activities made places sacred in Late Antiquity.
The mobility and transferability of the Christian sacred within Late Antique society makes using archaeology to reconstruct Christian landscapes particularly challenging. With the exception of the kind of inscribed acclamations mentioned earlier, processional liturgies would leave very little physical evidence.
One of the most exciting afternoon from this year in Cyprus involved a trip to the ruined monastery at Yialia in the mountains about Polis on the Western side of Cyprus. According to textual sources, Georgian monks founded the monastery on the island in the 10th century and it was occupied until the 14th century. The church is currently under study by a group of archaeologists from the Republic of Georgia with support, apparently, from the Archbishop of Cyprus.
The monastic church itself is a traditional Athonite plan with its characteristic triconch arrangement. Massive cisterns, storeroom, and living quarters for the monks (apparently) extend from the church’s southern side. The monastic church underwent several significant modifications in plan including an extension to the narthex, rather significant adjustments to the eastern end of the church, a chapel annex on the northern side, and a very strange tetrapylon type structure abutting the southern apse of the Athonite triconch. The ruins preserve some wall painting on the upper, more sheltered parts of the collapsed vaults, as well as some better preserved frescoes which were built around during the buildings numerous modifications.
The most interesting thing about this very curious building is how it is used today. The ruins of the church are currently used for the celebration of liturgy. A portable altar and prothesis stand at the eastern end of the church despite the ruinous condition of the sanctuary space.
Incense burners and evidence for the burning of candles dot the various ledges and niches of the ruined walls. The practice of re-using excavated, yet nevertheless consecrated sacred space is not entirely rare. I observed a similar phenomenon at the church of St. Tychon near Amathous, for example. It does, however, shed some valuable light on the intersection of long-standing forms of religious archaeology (dream archaeology being just one example) and modern “scientific” archaeological practice. This kind of provision use of a ruined church may also reflect some of the practices common to ancient and Byzantine Christianity where churches damaged by earthquakes or neglect continue to be places of intermittent devotional practices.
Making this point all the more clear, a casket occupies of the center of the nave. Apparently the excavations revealed a number of burials around the church and the monastic complex. A few of these burials appear to be marked by small, Georgian style crosses.
It seems reasonable to assume that the remains from these excavated grave sites are placed in the conspicuous casket. Apparently, the Georgian church plans to build a new monastery nearby and perhaps the bones of these now excavated monks will be brought to rest there.
The architecture, decoration, inscriptions (some in Georgian), and artifacts from this church will surely contribute to our understanding of the multi-ethnic character of Medieval Cyprus. More than that, however, the combination of “scientific” archaeology and Christian devotional practices shows the potential for a kind of indigenous archaeological practice to exist alongside largely “western” (by some definition) archaeological practices, methods, and presumably epistemology.
One of the great conversations that I had this past week at Polis Chysochous centered on how one goes about publishing a complex site or sites. Starting this fall, (as I discussed yesterday) a dynamic and diverse team of Late Antique, Byzantine, and Medieval scholars (Amy Papalexandrou, Kyle Killian, Sarah Lepinski, R. Scott Moore, Nora Laos, and myself) are planning to publish two multi-phase Christian churches excavated over the last 20 years in the village of Polis. The sites are relatively complex architecturally with numerous overlapping and interrelated phases; they have also produced robust assemblages of Late Antique to Medieval ceramics, highly fragmentary wall painting, glass, and mortuary remains.
In a traditional publication each of these materials would have its own discrete section (or perhaps even volume) produced after a period of careful study by a specialist. For example, Amy, Nora, and I would study the architecture and publish it complete with a description, comparanda, and comments on the significance of this architecture for existing typologies. Kyle and Scott would perform a similar study of the ceramics; Sarah would study and publish the wall painting. These practices have their roots in the history of discipline of archaeology (and the humanities more broadly). In the first half of the 20th century (outside brief pockets of critique), the humanities emphasized the mastery of (highly!) specialized bodies of material which collectively would contribute to the expanding pool of knowledge on a give topic. This empirical mode of research favored intensive, specialized, and discrete studies which would build a enduring body of factual knowledge.
Over the last 40 years (and perhaps more recently in the proudly anachronistic world of Mediterranean archaeology), scholarship have moved to more highly integrative approaches to research. These approaches have implicitly (or more recently explicitly) recognized that discrete bodies of knowledge exist only in relation to complex interpretative processes. These interpretative processes inform both the hypotheses that guide our research as well as the techniques that we use to collect data to evaluate these hypotheses. In other words, a body of factual knowledge does not exist outside interpretation. The goal of producing an enduring body of empirically sound knowledge is simply not attainable.
As a result of this trend, scholars have worked to produce more richly integrated, interpretative publications across the humanities. While vestiges of earlier practices persist in catalogue of finds and narrow specialist studies of distinct artifact types, these practices are increasingly arranged in relation to large archaeological and historical problems. Our efforts at Polis will, I hope, look to how the assemblage of ceramic material informs how we understand the architecture and decoration of these buildings; at the same time, I hope that the architecture informs our interpretation of the decorative material and the ceramics present at the site. The interplay between these various bodies of material create the interpretative space which we hope will produce a richer, more clearly historically relevant publication of the site. In short, our study will regard the material culture (architecture, ceramics, plaster, et c.) of the past as both the product and the producer of historical interpretation.
This approach is not novel, and on Cyprus we have some great models (particularly Marcus Rautman’s publication of the churches at Kopetra), but it is not universally applied. What could make our approach interesting, however, is that we will attempt to implement it as a team of specialists (rather than as a single visionary scholar who can command a vast body of material). Wish us luck!
Medieval and Post Medieval Archaeology of the Mediterranean – 2011 Archaeological Institute of America Colloquium
I just heard the good news that the Medieval and Post-Medieval Interest Group of the AIA has had a panel accepted at the 2011 AIA. The proposal is from David Pettegrew (the Interest Group president from 2008-2010) and Amelia Brown (current president 2010-). I’ll post updates on the panel including the abstracts for the papers and hopefully the podcasts of the actual panel over at our Pendentive Blog.
Here’s the abstract for the entire colloquium session and the paper titles. Looks like a great panel.
“Travel to Greece between Antiquity and the Grand Tour”
Two sets of travel texts have consistently formed the backdrop to archaeological interpretations of ancient Greek sites and landscapes: Pausanias’s 2nd-century Description of Greece and early modern accounts of western Europeans, who themselves often wrote with an awareness of Pausanias. Throughout most of the 20th century, archaeologists attempted to relate these texts to the new discoveries of excavation and survey, while in very recent years scholars have sought to understand these accounts, and the landscapes they represent, in terms of their particular social and intellectual contexts. In general, however, there has been very little research on travel to Greece between Pausanias and the start of the Grand Tour, despite the growing recognition that interregional communication continued uninterrupted between the 3rd and 17th centuries, both in Greece and in the Mediterranean more broadly. Indeed, the textual evidence for Late Antique, Byzantine, and Ottoman travel to Greece is greater than is often realized as historians, geographers, imperial functionaries, sailors, merchants, students, Hellenes, Christian pilgrims, monks, ‘barbarian invaders,’ refugees, pirates, Crusaders, knights, and armies, among many others, visited the peninsula and islands of Greece. It is true that most of these travelers did not (or even could not) record their visits to Greek lands in writing, but the extant textual evidence is not insubstantial. Some educated travelers followed ancient writers and prefigured the Grand Tourists by recording their interest in the monuments of classical antiquity while others ignored the classical past and sought places associated with St. Paul and Christian holy men and women, or viewed sites unaware of either Christian or classical pasts. The textual evidence itself exists in the context of an ever-expanding body of material culture of Late Antique to Ottoman date produced by both urban excavation and regional survey. In this colloquium, we analyze the varied written sources for different kinds of travel into, within, and around Greece between the 3rd and 17th centuries together with the regional archaeological evidence to illuminate landscapes from Late Antiquity to the Ottoman era. Our goal is to combine both kinds of evidence to better understand post-antique travel and the sites and landscapes visited before the Early Modern era.
“Intellectuals on the Isthmus of Greece,”
David K. Pettegrew, Messiah College
“Christian Pilgrimage to Byzantine Corinth,”
Amelia R. Brown, University of Queensland
“Two Italian Travelers on Karpathos in 1923 and c 1423, and an archaeological explanation for Sorzadori,”
D.J. Ian Begg, Trent University
“’To tell you something very special’: Cyriaco of Ancona in Greece,”
Diana Gilliland Wright, Independent Scholar
“Athens through Ottoman Eyes.”
Pierre A. MacKay, University of Washington
Here are two cool conferences to fire the imagination.
First, the Gennadius library will host a conference entitled “Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience? American Archaeology in Greece” next week. The Gennadius web site provides information on the scope, the speakers, and the abstracts. As one might expect the American School Director, Jack Davis, and the School’s Archivist, Natalia Bogeikoff-Brogan, have assembled an impressive group to talk about the deeply intertwined phenomena of philanthropy, philhellenism, and archaeology. I suspect that the ongoing events in Greece will provide this conference with an even more urgent backdrop. (Also check out the one-day conference on Mistra two days later!)
Next fall, the University of Texas will host a conference called “Corinth in Contrast“. This is the third in a series of conferences focusing on the history and archaeological of Ancient Corinth. The first has appeared a book, called Urban Religion in Roman Corinth, and I suspect that the second conference is a forthcoming publication. I am among those invited to give a paper which I have tentatively entitled, “The Ambivalent Landscape of Christian Corinth: the Archaeology of Place, Theology, and Politics in a Late Antique City”. As the conference is centered around:
“the polarities that we often use to characterize forms of inequality—urban/rural, male/female, Greek/Roman, rich/poor, pagan/Christian, Jew/Gentile, monotheist/polytheist, slave/free, high/low status, etc. Participants are also encouraged to move beyond these polarities by 1) bringing forward new data; 2) reexamining existing data; 3) showing connections between different forms of inequality; and/or 4) applying new methods or theories. The focus on Corinth should allow us to produce more nuanced appraisals and more complicated categories of analysis. “
Since ambivalence is a viable opposite of polarity, I think I should be able to speak to the major themes of the conference.
It’s also exciting to see that there will be a PKAP contingent including David Pettegrew and Sarah Lepinski as well as Sarah James who is one of the conference’s organizers and an honorary PKAP member by marriage. The Corinth-Koutsopetria Axis is a intellectual alliance to be reckoned with!
For those of you in the Grand Forks Metropolitan Area this evening, I am giving a talk at the North Dakota Museum of Art in the Faculty Lecture Series. The talk starts at 4:30 with a reception from 4:00. Considering my post yesterday, I promise to include only a few illustrative slides using The Powerpointer.
My talk is entitled Dream Archaeology and represents the third version of my efforts to come to terms with this subject. Unlike earlier versions, I think that I problematize my paper somewhat better and add a bit of flair (mostly because I am going to present it to relatively diverse audience). If you doubt my efforts to make my paper better you can (although I don’t recommend it) read the first draft here, read the second draft here, and contemplate my third draft below:
Caraher Dream Archaeology 2010 http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf?document_id=30697799&access_key=key-21c1iybbuqhac3sqcieh&page=1&viewMode=list
For more on Dream Archaeology without leaving the comfortable informality of the blog, see below:
Dreams in Ravenna
Dream Archaeology in the Early Christian West
Blindness, Dreams, and Relics
More Dreams, Religion, and Archaeology
More Byzantine Dreams…
Dreams, Pausanias, and Archaeology
Dreams, Inventio, and Archaeology
Over the past decade or so, there has been a new wave of scholarship on the Late Antique city. These works have ranged from W. Liebeschuetz, Decline and Fall of the Roman City (Oxford 2001) or A. Wharton, Refiguring the Post-Classical City (Cambridge 1995) to a myriad of specific city studies: Haas on Alexandria, Hall on Beirut, Rothaus on Corinth, Curran on Rome, et c. It’s clear that the late ancient city has remained a source of fascination for scholars and the increased quantity of archaeological evidence available has allowed even more robust and synthetic works that have significantly revised our view of urban life in Late Antiquity
Deborah M. Deliyannis, Ravenna in Late Antiquity (Cambridge 2010) fits into this tradition by focusing on one the best studied cities in the Late Antique world. The monumental efforts of F.W. Deichmann to document the architecture and history of the city of Ravenna formed a solid foundation of Deliyannis’ book which, if nothing else, summarized many of the conclusions from Deichmann’s numerous German tomes in English. In fact, the strength of this book is the massive amount of summary description of the major monuments in the city. At the same time, Deliyannis’ familiarity with the literary sources for the city, particularly, the Liber Pontificalis of Agnellus which she has translated, provided a critical textual basis for many of her conclusions.
In short, Deliyannis argued that Ravenna was uniquely positioned between East and West both politically and culturally. Nowhere is this more clear than in Its status as both a capital and a more marginal city over its long post-antique history. The result of these influences was the blend local and Mediterranean wide trends that produced a unique synthesis of Late Antique culture. The influences of the East in the Adriatic is an area of growing interest especially as we have come to recognize that the aftershocks of the various theological, ecclesiological, and Christological controversies in the East had a significant impact on Imperial authority in regions like the Balkans which fell under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Papacy, but the political influence of the emperor in Constantinople.
While Deliyannis’ book does a brilliant job bringing to light the architectural history of the city, it is disappointing that she seemed so much less interested in subjecting the people of the city of Ravenna to the same scrutiny. The was no effort in the book to consider substantially everyday life in the city. The absence of any discussion of the economy of Ravenna was particularly striking. Aside from a few comments on the presence of kilns, the vaguely described ebb and flow of imported pottery, and the tendency to re-use bricks in the construction of churches, there is no sense for how Ravenna fit into the trans-Mediterranean economic networks which so many scholars of Late Antiquity have scrutinized.
There was also almost no discussion of the local economy. Particularly striking was the absence of any discussion of the hinterland of Ravenna and its port at Classe. To be fair, Deliyannis makes clear that the marshy territories to the west of the city apparently contributed to its defense and apparently the city did not suffer from lack of water. She does not, however, discuss how the city was fed or even (and perhaps more interesting) whether the marshy land around the city provided any economic advantage to the inhabitants. This is disappointing because so much attention in recent times has focused on the relationship between cities and their hinterlands. In fact, recent work has focused almost as much on the hinterlands of Late Roman cities as on their urban cores (see, for example, David Pettegrew’s work on the near-hinterland of Corinth or Michael Decker’s recent book on the Late Antique hinterland of major Levantine cities).
Finally, it also stood out that Deliyannis did relatively little to place the city of Ravenna explicitly into the recent conversations on the urban fabric of Late Antiquity. How does the unique urban history of the city of Ravenna compare to other Late Roman cities both in Italy and elsewhere? And how does the city of Ravenna for all its unique characteristics, inform how we understand the regional politics of Italy, the Balkans, or even the Late Antique Mediterranean? This broader perspective would have added considerable significance to this already valuable contribution to the history of a city.
So, I’m sick and I promised myself that I wouldn’t blog today and focus my meager energies on the handful of things that absolutely need to get done.
But then I thought, wait, don’t I need to remark on a dream from Agnellus of Ravenna?
41. Meanwhile, when in that time the mother of Valentinian, the Empress Galla Placidia, was building the church of the Holy Cross our Redeemer, her niece, by the name of Singledia, was advised one night by a vision, in which a man in white vestiments stood there, adorned with a grey-haired head and a beautiful beard, and said, “In such and such a place not far from this church of the Holy Cross, which your aunt is having built, as far as a bowshot, build me a monasterium, as you will find it traced out. And where you find the likeness of a cross in the ground, there let an altar be consecrated, and dedicate it in the name of Zacharias, the father of the Precursor.
Waking at once, she ran swiftly to the place, where its outline had been shown; she found that a foundation had been dug as if by the hand of man. Running forward at once, she told the empress with great joy and requested workmen from her; and [Galla] gave her thirteen builders. And at once she started to build as she had found it drawn out; and in thirteen days she built in all and brought it to completion. And she consecrated it and endowed it with gold and silver and golden crowns and most precious gems and gold chalices, which come out in procession on the Nativity of the Lord…
I know that I feel better now.