Yesterday I had one of those little thought-provoking coincidences that make you wonder about how things could be done better.
At 11:44 am I got an email from the American School of Classical Studies publication office concerning our soon-to-be-published article on fortification around Ano Vayia. Our article will appear in the next issue of the American School’s journal, Hesperia. The email asked us where we would like our 50 complimentary offprints sent and whether we wanted to purchase 50 more for $150. Hesperia offprints are really lovely things. They are stapled, on high quality paper, impeccably edited, stylish in design, and include a nice, glossy cover. In short, the $150 price for 50 does not seem unreasonable.
At 1:45 pm that same day I received a form-email from Jack Davis, the Director of the American School of Classical Studies. It was their annual fund-raising email. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is one of my favorite things in the world. The institution played a key role in anything that is good about my professional development and no matter how long I am away, still has the feeling of a home-away-from-home. I have benefited three times over from their generous fellowships and these fellowships have led to my dissertation and numerous publications. I have come to appreciation the American School for its awkward and paradoxical blend of things traditional and things contemporary and “modern”. By not shying away from some of the most traditional aspects of a classical education (e.g. the flavor of the Grand Tour that pervades the Regular Program), the School encourages students to reflect on the practices and institutions that have created the disciplines of Classics, Classical Archaeology, Ancient History, et c. Because of these things, I am in the habit of giving money to the American School. I can’t give much as an Assistant Professor at a state school in North Dakota, but I give my proverbial widow’s mite.
Back to the coincidence: In the same day, within hours, the same institution that was asking for money also offered me that very day something for free. This got me to think: what if we as contributors to Hesperia just turned down our offprints? Now, I recognize that the circulation of offprints continues to play a small role in the “academic gift economy”. But, as I began to try to make a mental list of people to whom I’d like to send offprints, I was counting far fewer than 50 individuals. Moreover, many of the people on that list would probably just as soon have a digital offprint (a handsomely formatted .pdf file) suitably disgraced with some personal note of thanks. The digital offprints of Hesperia are every bit as high quality as the print offprints with good resolution on photographs and searchable text. Moreover, of the handful of people to whom I’d send offprints, almost all of them have access to Hesperia. Less than a month ago I had a conversation with a resolutely “olde skool” American School type and offered to send him an offprint of my forthcoming article. He smiled, thanked me, and said, that he subscribes to Hesperia. (I knew this, of course, but apparently even among the “olde skool” the ritual component of offprint exchange had fallen into disuse.)
All the same, I can anticipate some people saying that some individuals still keep paper offprint files and some of our European colleagues take the circulation of paper offprints quite seriously and some offprints serve as valuable contributions to small, highly specialized and underfunded libraries (say at the local office of the archaeological service). The high quality of a Hesperia offprint makes them almost something of intrinsic value.
On the other hand, I am pretty sure (although I won’t admit to doing this) that we can still print out a copy of a Hesperia article, scrawl some heartfelt note of thanks of the first page, and present it to a colleague as a token of thanks. Maybe this violates copyright? I’m really not sure, but I can hardly imagine this to be the kind of practice that the International Copyright Police would enforce, and it would guess that it would be possible for Hesperia to give authors permission to reproduce a certain number of copies of their own articles. (Although it would be awesome to be approached by a neatly dressed Nigerian man outside the Agora in Athens with a stack of slightly blurry photocopied Hesperia offprints…).
One more thing, Hesperia offers to let us purchase another 50 offprints for $150. Since Hesperia articles tend toward the long side, I assume that this price represents the average cost of printing 50 offprints, perhaps with some small compensation of watering down the copyright (in other words, perhaps they factor in that some people will receive an offprint and will decide not to purchase the journal, but I can’t imagine that this represents a very large group). Last year, Hesperia published 17 articles and if $150 is the average cost of a run of offprints, then they spent about $2550 on offprints.
If every contributor over a year just said, politely, no thank you to offprints from Hesperia, we could, in effect, give the American School Publication Office a gift of $2500. I suspect that each of us would have to turn down all of our offprints because printing enjoys really significant economies of scale, and it seems fair to assume that these economies are realized at 50 copies of each article. I know some contributors will still want to “kick it olde skool” and will want to have their shinny Hesperia offprints, but I also suspect that, if given the option explicitly, a percentage of hipper, new skool contributors would turn ours down. And I’d like to think that Hesperia and the American School would appreciate this little gift.
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!
I made a post a few months ago entitled The Destructive Power of the Parthenon (see also my brief review of Anthony Kaldellis’ book about on the Christian Parthenon). It has become one of my most frequently viewed posts. I was prompted by the controversy over Costa-Gavras’s short film for the New Acropolis Museum in Athens. The controversy stems from the depiction of black glad Christian’s defacing the Parthenon sculptures in (apparently) A.D. 438. As I said in my previous post, I have my doubts about the historical and archaeological veracity of this claim – or at least the systematic extent of damage inflicted by iconoclastic Christians – but I’ll leave the archaeological arguments to folks like Troels Myrup who specialize in the phenomenon.
I’ll refrain for analyzing the film further (taking a colleague’s advice: it’s just a cartoon!), except to say that the only depiction of figures in the film are folks being destructive to the building (namely Christian Athenians and Lord Elgin). It seems like a missed opportunity not to have shown early archaeologists to whose vision we owe so much of our current view of the Acropolis and its temple.
Last week, I pulled down a box full of slides that I had taken between 1997 and 2003. I was looking for photographs of Lakka Skoutara in 2001 and 2002 (and found them, for all you who doubt my filing system), but I also found my pictures of my first trip to Greece and my two years as an associate member at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. I looked through box after box of them with a combination of nostalgia and amazement as I realized the completely clinical character of my pictures. My photos focused almost totally on ancient and Byzantine monuments with almost no shots of my friends, traveling companions, or the physical surroundings. As I thought about this more, I remembered how expensive slide film and processing was (particularly for a graduate student) and how important I thought it was to produce a teaching collection of images (in the days before Google Image), and this helped me relax a bit.
It was pleasant surprise to see an article in the most recent volume of Hesperia that looked at the 19th century equivalent of my touristic perambulations and their photographic record. D. Harlan’s “Travels, Pictures, and a Victorian Gentleman in Greece” continues Hesperia‘s recent interest in articles on early travelers and tourists to the Mediterranean and the role that they played in shaping our archaeological expectations and perceptions of Modern Greece. Harlan’s article focused on the slides of T.R.R. Stebbing who traveled to Greece and Turkey at the end of the 19th century. He took a series of glass-plate lantern-slides of famous monuments and well-known scenes, like the harbor at Smyrna. These slides came eventually to reside in the archives of the Institute of Archaeology of Oxford and some of them may have contributed to a published series of educational slides distributed by Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. These slides, then, provide insights into not only the itinerary and values of a late 19th century tourist in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also the development of well-known educational collections that circulated on lantern slides widely in the the UK and the US.
The University of North Dakota has a small collection of these slides distributed by The Keystone View Company — one of the standard American firms distributing such lantern slides. Orin G. Libby, the long-time chair of the Department of History lobbied continuously for new and updated Lantern slide projectors. At the same time, Webster Merrifield the president of the University of North Dakota and, more or less, a contemporary of Stebbing traveled regularly to Europe and the Mediterranean. While there is no record of him taking slides photographs, Merrifield’s Classical training would have made it a likely possibility. After all, we know that he returned with a small number of objects purchased from across the Eastern Mediterranean and destined for a small (and now mostly lost) collection of University antiquities.
As Harlan argues, these slides served to link the tourist itineraries of the early guide books, like Murray’s, Cook’s, and Baedeker’s, to classroom instruction in the US. There is a direct parallel between these early tourist itineraries and the modern day itinerary of the American School of Classical Studies which, in turn, continues to reproduce and reinforce a standardized view of Greece as captured by the camera’s eye. (Check out this collection of images and compare them, broadly speaking, to the Stebbing’s pictures) The persistence of such structured engagements with both Ancient and Modern Greece is nothing short of remarkable. The distribution of such “tourist” photos (that is photos linked directly to a tourists itinerary) serve to condition particular engagements with the Greek landscape that, in turn, shape the itineraries of future tourists. One goes to Greece, according to this kind of structured engagement, less to see the country, per se, and more to reproduce images, vistas, and scenes burned into your memory through the wide distribution and use of images. This likely accounts for the slow rate of change in tourist itineraries (and the itinerary of the American School and other study tours to Greece) and the persistent (if slowly dissipating) view of Greece as a place of history rather than a dynamic society with its own character, problems, and potentials.
More on this exciting fascicule of Hesperia later in the week!
I attended the Modern Greek Studies Association conference in Vancouver, B.C. over the last few days. It was a great show. Our panel on the archaeology of modern Greece was sparsely attended, but the discussion was vigorous and the feedback good. It was great to reconnect with Effie Athanassopoulos, Amelia Brown, and Kostis Kourelis. It was also fun to meet Matthew Milliner, blogger at millinerd.com. and northamericanchurches which I have now happily added to my delicious blogroll and will link to regularly. (His Wordless Wednesday feature is the kind of alliterative brilliance that I can truly appreciate).
Here’s a link to our paper. My understanding is that Kostis Kourelis has recorded the session and I hope to make these links to our papers as MP3s available soon. As a preview, the papers captured the variety of methods employed to come to grips with modern Greece with an archaeologist’s tools. These methods ranged from diligent work in paper archives to field work rooted in the best practices of processualism to post-processual practices that sought to reconcile the varieties of relationships and experiences recoverable within the modern landscape. What was perhaps striking is that none of our methods were particular to the Greek national experience. This is perhaps good in that it avoids reifying age old arguments for Greek exceptionalism (rooted in the archaeological practices derived in large part from the study of ancient Greece), but it was a bit disappointing as well in that the unique history of Greek archaeology and its institutions must contribute more than just a particularly well-curated body of knowledge, but also distinctive ways of understanding the landscape, the place, and the people.
Vancouver was a great city. The trip to the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology was a particular highlight. Much like our panel and the project of archaeology more generally, this dramatic building sought to wrap the material culture of the first nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest in a modern setting. The interplay between the elaborately carved, yet functional house posts and totem polls and the austere economy of the poured concrete building made obvious the act of translation performed at the museum. The artifacts of the various local tribes found themselves recontextualized within the museum of the colonizer. The relationship between the vertical lines of the museum and the dimensions and functions of the architectural fragments and objects housed within it proved that some cross-cultural understanding is possible, and while it would be neither precise nor value free, it could at least be dramatic and emotionally evocative.
The scenery around Vancouver was simply ridiculous. The rain, the coastline, the diversity of the city’s neighborhoods, and the company made the entire experience memorable (and how often can we say that about an academic conference?).
Some quick hits on a sunny and cold Friday morning:
- The famous smiley water tower in Grand Forks met its end this week. The local water tower painted with a smile and wink in 1977 was dismantled despite the controversy surrounding its importance to the local community.
- I’ve begun to experiment with Omeka and hope to have some kind of exhibit of material from the Pyla-Koustopetria Archaeological Project available by early next year.
- I’ve also started blogging with ecto. So far, so good.
- Finally, Ryan Stander and I received an invitation from Kickstarter and hope to have something up and ready to go by the end of the month.
- If you haven’t read Teaching Thursday, you should.
- Via, Objects-Buildings-Situations, the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens has opened its reinstalled Post-Byzantine collection.
- It’s fantastic to see the new home of the Digital and New Media Working Group coming together. Photos soon.
More soon, but in the meantime, have a good weekend!
If you want more traffic to your archaeology blog, just post with the words Acropolis, Parthenon, or Athens in the title! I posted a couple of weeks ago on what I termed the “destructive power” of the Athenian Acropolis and declared it to be one of the most unapologetically modern of all ancient monuments.
This past week, while frantically preparing for classes, I used my down time to read A. Kaldellis new little book on the Christian Parthenon. As per my usual practice, I am not going to review this book. And in the interest of full disclosure, he allowed me to read an early draft of his manuscript. The book is an exciting one. Kaldellis combs the difficult and dispersed Byzantine sources for the Parthenon and argues (among other things) that the Parthenon was more important as a church than it ever was as an ancient temple. Dedicated to the Mother of God, the temple was the Cathedral of Athens, an important pilgrimage site, and the location of a persistent miracle involving some kind of mysterious light.
I’ll make three short observations about this book and how his thinking about Byzantine views of antiquity is so enriching:
1. He is subtle in his argument, but he suggests that some of the Parthenon’s modern fame is rooted in its Byzantine renown. While the lines of transmission can not be precisely defined, the long Frankish occupation of Athens and some continuity of practice between the Frankish and Byzantine period would have exposed the Crusaders to the temple’s reputation as a church. The Western suppression of the Byzantine period at the Parthenon, then, not only physically eliminated and historically vilified the Byzantine contributions to the building itself, but overwrote the Byzantine source for the temple’s architectural and historical significance. After all, how could the “Oriental” Byzantine have appreciated the Classical glory of the Parthenon? This argument adds sting to Kaldellis observations “the Byzantines had done far less damage to the monument than had Elgin and the Venetians” (p. 4).
2. He problematizes the Byzantine relationship to the past in a far more complex way than previous scholarship. In doing so, he offers the suggestion that spread and importance of the cult of the Panagia Atheniotissa represented a sublimated knowledge of the city’s glorious Classical past as embodied in the Parthenon which could not be expressed within the rhetorical and intellectual structures of Christian Byzantine rhetoric or, perhaps, even Byzantine society more broadly (p. 175). This Freudian reading of the deep conflict between the pagan Classical past and the Byzantine present explain the emergence of the Parthenon as an important site by representing it as the manifestation of suppressed desire. In other words, the Parthenon and the Classical past of Greece continued to function in societies unconscious (especially among the Byzantine intellectual elite). It’s a small leap to understand the historical and archaeological character of Greek dream life in the same way (for more on that see here and here). The suppressed wish for a glorious Classical past (especially during challenging times faced by bishops like Michael Choniates) finds expression through the exaltation of the Byzantine temple.
3. For a while, I was looking serious at Byzantine saints lives from Greece and I was told, perhaps flippantly, by a senior archaeologist that he thought these texts had little value and were, more or less, all the same. While this did not cause me to give up on them entirely, it probably discouraged me from thinking that there would be much potential in attempting to bring together Byzantine hagiography (or Byzantine texts more broadly) and the systematic archaeology of the Byzantine period. Kaldellis’s work is a great model for any efforts in that directions and suggests that the integration of Byzantine texts and monuments is not only possible for Greece, but can be profitable.
Oh, one last thing in this non-review. Kaldellis prose is great. He manages to combine analytical precision with an casual and readable diction. A few of my colleagues can pull this off. I can’t. I’m jealous.
The Athenian Acropolis preserves an amazing collection monuments. Perhaps because of the prominence of these monuments, it never fails to attract attention and controversy. In fact, as much as the Acropolis and its crown jewel the Parthenon has inspired, the idea of the Acropolis has also shown an amazing power to disrupt, destroy, and disorient. The most recent example of this (via Kostis Kourelis) is the short film directed by Constantin Costa-Gavras designed to be shown at the new Acropolis museum. Apparently, the church became upset by a scene that showed priests destroying part of the sculpture of the Parthenon frieze. According to AP:
The animated segment showed figures clad in black climbing up ladders and destroying part of the Parthenon frieze; the scene referred to well-documented episodes of destruction that took place in the early Byzantine period (5th-8th centuries A.D.), when Christians often demolished monuments and temples belonging to the old pagan era. Many parts from those temples were used to build churches. The Parthenon itself suffered some damage but was spared a worse fate by being converted into a church.
“The priests used to destroy ancient temples. Now they want to remove scenes from a film,” Costa-Gavras told Greece’s Mega TV channel. “This is the kind (of censorship) that used to happen in the former Soviet Union.”
This entire episode is fascinating and another testimony to the power of the Acropolis and the Parthenon to destroy. History first. The “well-documented episodes of the destruction that took place in the early Byzantine period” is wrong. There are almost no well-documented incidents of anything during the Early Byzantine period. In fact, the closing of the Parthenon as a temple and its consecration as a church remain a hotly debated issue with no particular chance of any resolution any time soon. Alison Frantz in her still seminal and elegant article from 1965 puts it best (A. Frantz, “From Paganism to Christianity in the Temples of Athens,” DOP 19 (1965), 185-205):
“The zeal with which the classically-oriented archaeologists of the nineteenth century stripped away from Athenian temples all possible reminders of their post-classical history has rendered unduly complicated the task of dating their conversion. The nature of the required alterations made it impossible to eradicate completely all traces and these, supplemented by descriptions and drawings by the early travelers, have sometimes made it possible to reconstruct the general appearance of both exterior and interior. But the systematic removal, without recording, of wall masonry and, in many cases, even of foundations, destroyed at the same time almost all chronological evidence…” (p. 201)
In fact, the lack of good chronology for the conversion of the temples of Athens to church means that there is no way of knowing who and when the Parthenon marbles were damaged.
The issue with the film and the marbles and the Parthenon and the Acropolis is not just about some quibbling over the date of its conversion and the changes wrought by its conversion to a Christian church. (There have been some good, recent work on the Parthenon during the Byzantine Period). The real issue that I want to focus some attention on here is how amazingly destructive the idea of the Parthenon has become. The prominent rock that is the Acropolis has long stood as a place where the various rulers of Athens sought to project their identity onto the city and, more recently, the modern nation. At the same time that the rock with its temples has represented the commanding voice in Athens, it has also worked to negate competing visions of the city and the nation. The Conta-Gavras film is a typical example of this. His work, like many intellectuals of modern Europe, has always contained an anti-clerical strain, so it is unsurprising that he would project his left-leaning ideals onto the Parthenon. At the same time, the Parthenon is a place where identity is tightly controlled by the Greek state which, particularly when governed by a center-right party, closely tied (if not properly inseparable) from the Greek Church.
From the 19th century on, efforts have been made to purify the history of the Parthenon through the systematic destruction of its post-Classical phases (see the work of Y. Hamilakis); more recently, the construction of the new Acropolis museum in one of the most archaeological sensitive areas of Athens has caused its own kind of destruction without mentioning the high-profile controversy surrounding the need to destroy a nearby art-deco style building to ensure the museum’s view of the “sacred rock”. It is a testimony to the power of the Acropolis that the recent episodes have captured the modernist roots of archaeology and broadcast them so globally. A the Parthenon, perhaps more than anywhere else, destroying the past and collapsing it into an permanent present has become the key method for transcending it.
The most recent controversy over images of destruction in the Costa-Gavras film and the subsequent destruction of his artistic vision falls in line with the politics of nation building and identity formation that have swirled around the monument for its entire history. It’s also a nice reminder of how an inspirational monument can empower destruction as well as creation.
I leave the comfortable confines of the American School early tomorrow morning for the beginning of my field season in Cyprus. It was an exciting year to be at the American School for many reasons. First, I was able to focus heavily on my own research including my work on Cyprus on the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, on Early Christian epigraphy, architecture, and decoration. I was able to develop a small (but rapidly growing) project on “dream archaeology” and begin to conceptualize more formally how to approach editing the autobiography of a scholar as accomplished as Elwyn B. Robinson. I was also able to form many new professional and personal relationships. I learned more about the Archaic religion in Athens, the Peloponnesian agora, the Great Mother, Greek landscape and survey archaeology, Roman figurines and magical objects from the Athenian Agora, and the official and unofficial history of the American School.
I also had front-row seats for some of the interesting changes taking place at the School. The lecture series at Cotsen Hall was more extensive than I could remember or even imagine. The regular program included a trip to Western Macedonia and lectures on GIS and Survey Archaeology. There was a new website. Women wearing uniforms with the words “Cleaning Team” on the back introduced a new policy where all members of the school community will be required to wear uniforms clearly marking their position in the community (“Regular Members Team”, “Academic Team”, “Management Team”, and the very important “Board of Trustees Team”). This will certainly cut down on those awkward moments when you accidentally assume that a member of the Board of Trustees is the person responsible for cleaning your office!
The Blegen, Gennadius, and neighboring British School Libraries continue to amaze me. If you think that you need a book that is not in one of these three excellent libraries, it is probably the first sign of a much deeper problem with your own research model. I might be kidding, but it is hard to say.
I also was supported by a good group of colleagues in the new director, Jack Davis, who generously gave me time off to pursue my own research, in the Mellon Professor, John Oakley, who welcomed my onto his flawlessly organized trips and encouraged my regular contributions, and the two Whitehead Professors, Kirk Ormand and Barbara Barletta. Chuck Jones at the Blegen consistently impressed me with just how much he understands about the digital media and Maria Georgopoulou at the Gennadius gave me a venue to pursue and present my research. The staff at Loring Hall made the American School a welcoming place to call home and patiently saw to the slow improvement of my Greek.
The other people that I need to thank here are all those back at the University of North Dakota who allowed me to take advantage of this year away. My colleagues in the Department of History kept me in the loop on things. More importantly, however, my wife made my stay here possible with her patient support.
I leave for Cyprus tomorrow and the beginning of the PKAP season. This will bring some exciting changes to this blog! So stay tuned even as I end one thing and begin something else…
The study of spolia in a Medieval context is certainly not new and it has received particular intensive attention in the last few years. Most scholars, however, have focused on the use of Ancient spolia in a Medieval context and focused on monuments like the 9th-century Panayia at Skripou (see in particular A. Papalexandrou, The church of the Virgin of Skripou : architecture, sculpture and inscriptions in ninth-century Byzantium (Ph.D. Thesis, Princeton University, 1998)) or, here in Athens, the Little Metropolis. One almost wonders whether this emphasis on the use of Classical stones represents a lingering apologia for Medieval period monuments — an effort to prove that even the Byzantines recognized the importance of Classical Antiquity or reinforces the timeless aesthetic of Classical monuments or an abiding sense of continuity with the Classical past.
We know, however, that by far the largest class of spolia reused in Byzantine monuments did not date from antiquity, but rather the Early Christian period. Columns, column capitals, marble chancel barriers, inscriptions, even mosaic decoration complemented obvious efforts to mark the place of earlier buildings in the landscape.
Two relatively recent works highlight the significance of studying this Christian spolia in a Medieval context. L. Nixon’s Making a Landscape Sacred: Outlying Churches and Icon Stands in Sphakia, Southwestern Crete. (Oxford 2006) (for more on this book see my: Sacred Landscapes in Crete and the Corinthia) focuses some attention on the reuse of Early Christian spolia in Venetian era buildings in Crete. She argues:
“I suggest that what we have in Venetian Sphakia is the expression of a particular chronology of desire, made material and visible through the incorporation of earlier Christian elements, especially in the case of he churches built over basilicas, but also in the churches which include palaeo-Christian spolia. The desired chronology is one that links local Orthodox Christianity with an earlier authentic and original Christian presence, ruined but not destroyed (according to local tradition) by the Arabs. The placement of new churches over basilica sanctuaries shows a precise awareness of the older structures, and a desire to bind two points in time into one authoritative chronology.” (p. 72)
Oddly, she over looks the work of John Xenos (for more on him see: To Crete with John Xenos) who many centuries earlier on Crete showed a similar sensitivity to reconfirming the Christian landscape of the island. It can perhaps be added to her argument that this was not only building physical continuity with Early Christian remains on the island, but also in practice by re-performing deeds documented in the texts of their Byzantine predecessors.
Another recent article shines valuable light on this matter as well. B. Kiilerich, “Making Sense of the Spolia in the Little Metropolis,” Arte Medievale 4 (2005), 95-114 not only offers a relatively radical re-dating of this building, but also notes the important role of Christian spolia in a building perhaps better known for its wide array of ancient stones. The basis for redating the building to the 16th century is an inscription built into the church but recorded by Kyriakos of Ancona among stones said to be near the agora. Kyriakos was unlikely to record an inscription built into a church without noting the church and its wide array of other spolia suggesting that the building was, in fact, not built until after his visit to Athens in 1436. Kiilerich argues fairly convincingly for a date in the 1450s after the city had fallen to the Ottomans.
More interesting for a discussion of spolia, however, is her idea that the church sought to integrate both pagan and Christian spolia into a monument as a mark of a distinct Byzantine and Greek identity. Her final paragraph summarizes this nicely:
“The most prevalent sign on the spoIia is the cross. It is presented more than fifty times on the exterior of the church, and on the northern wall, inscribes itself upon a particular large number of ancient and medieval reliefs. In this context the many crosses – some of which were probably inserted into the ancient images long before the stones were reused in the church – were hardIy due to superstitious minds fearing pagan imagery; rather, they were aimed at the Ottomans as a visual manifestation of religious identity, The Little Metropolis was a monument to Athens and the Orthodox faith in the form of a church that displayed tangible physical evidence of Athens’ Byzantine and antique culture. The spolia with the dominant sign of the cross were markers of identity, visual reminders of Christianity, the auctoritas of which was rooted in antiquity.” (p. 111)
Both Nixon and Kiilerich demonstrate a willingness to see spolia in a Medieval context as capable of evoking an Early Christian past as much as what scholars would see as an ancient one. Kiilerich in particular is even willing to see pagan spolia in a Medieval context noting that some of the material used in the Little Metropolis may have had crosses already inscribed in it from previous reuse. Thus, some ancient spolia might not necessarily function to evoke a Classical past that at times seems to be of more interest to contemporary archaeologists and historian than to Medieval Greeks who reused the stones.