Home > Uncategorized > The Cypriot Landscape, Pyla-Koutsopetria, and Rome

The Cypriot Landscape, Pyla-Koutsopetria, and Rome

As I mentioned yesterday, my paper in Montreal will focus on the archaeological aspects of the Roman presence on Cyprus in an effort to complement a paper that emphasizes the administrative aspects of Roman rule.  I spent most of the day yesterday thinking about how Cyprus position in the Roman empire influenced Cypriot landscape. Susan Alcock’s Graecia Capta was at the forefront of my thought as was Marcus Rautman’s work on the “busy countryside” of Late Antique Cyprus. 

So, the question that I tried to answer is how was Cyprus’ place in the Roman empire visible at our site of Pyla-Koustopetria.  In some ways, our site is typical of other non-urban Roman-Late Roman sites on the island.  For example, it lacks a strong signature of material from the 2nd-3rd century and has a tremendous increase of material in the later 5th, 6th, and early 7th centuries. The absence of 2nd and 3rd century material might be an artifact of our understanding of Roman ceramics; after all out site produced a good amount of pottery that can be generically dated to the Roman period.  Thus, we can probably argue that our site had continuous activity throughout the Roman era.  This would distinguish it, in part, from trends in both Greece and Cyprus which seem to suggest that economic and political turmoil of the later high empire saw a contraction of rural settlement.

On the other hand, our site is not simply a Roman period settlement.  We have activity at Koutsopetria continuously from the Archaic period including what appears to be a fortified settlement perhaps dating to the Classical-Hellenistic time.  The arrival of Roman material on the site, then, could be read as the changing material culture of the long-standing settlement.  While this would qualify as a kind of Romanization (especially as some of the material may suggest a deeper involvement in markets made available by Roman rule over the entire Eastern Mediterranean), it hardly represents the creation of a distinct Roman landscape of the kind recognized by Alcock in Greece and typified by large scale agricultural exploitation of the countryside, centuriation, and wholesale founding of cities. 

It is interesting, however, to compare the position of Koutsopetria in pre-Roman Cyprus to its position in the administratively unified island under Roman rule.  In pre-Roman times, Koutsopetria sat at the periphery of the city of Kition’s chora (or territory).  In fact, one possible interpretation of the fortification at the site is that they are a coastal border fort near the eastern limits of Kition’s territory.  With the arrival of Roman administrative organization on Cyprus, inter-city rivalries on the island presumably continued, but political and economic boundaries between these cities (for example Kition and its eastern neighbor Salamis) would have become increasingly irrelevant.  It seems worth considering that the rise in prosperity at Koutsopetria over the course of the Roman period, was stimulated in part by a new degree of economic coherence present on the island under Roman rule.  Koutsopetria may have gone from being a peripheral settlement to Kition to its own kind of central place occupying the gap between the political and economic centers at Kition and Salamis. 

Perhaps it was the political unification of the island during the Roman period which set the stage for the rapid expansion and increase in prosperity of the site during Late Antiquity.  The full array of Late Roman finewares and transport vessels at the site shows a deep engagement with Mediterranean markets.  Moreover, the material at Koutsopetria appears somewhat different from the material found at other sites in the immediate vicinity suggesting a degree of economic autonomy.  What happened during the Late Roman period to encourage this kind of economic expansion?  In a general sense, Rautman and others have suggested that the stability of the Late Roman Mediterranean and the general prosperity of Mediterranean markets stimulated the exchange of highly visible (in an archaeological sense) products.  So in this sense, Koutsopetria represents one of any number of Roman period sites that cashed in on the general prosperity of the Eastern Mediterranean. 

When cast against the backdrop of Roman rule on the island of Cyprus, the site history of Pyla-Koutsopetria appears distinct in that activity at the site is not a pure artifact of Roman administrative priorities, economic resturcturing, or political intervention.  On the other hand, its expansion during this period and into Late Antiquity suggests that Roman rule did influence the development of the site.  Its location on the coast and at the junction of several Roman roads surely provided opportunities for the residents to engage more fully the local trade on the island as well as the larger external markets made accessible through Roman control of the Mediterranean basin.  This assessment, of course, says nothing about the cultural, religious, or even social influences of Roman rule which surely conditioned the archaeological signature of the site in the landscape as well.  More on this… I hope… later in the week.

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