Home > Archaeology, Byzantium, Survey Archaeology > Byzantine Pottery from Sagalassos

Byzantine Pottery from Sagalassos

I was pretty surprise to see an article entitled “Middle-Late Byzantine Pottery from Sagalassos: Typo-Chronology and Sociocultural Interpretation” in the very recent Hesperia (A.K. Vionis, J. Poblome, B. De Cupere, M. Waelkens, Hesperia 79 (2010), 423-464).  It’s not so much that the subject matter is late, but that the site of Sagalassos is a Belgian project in Turkey rather than an American project in Greece.  As some of my more observant friends pointed out, Hesperia has published the results of project from Albania, so maybe this should not have caught be so off guard.  But it did and it indicates to me that Hesperia is continuing to expand its purview to include the wider world of Mediterranean archaeology. Hooray!

The article on the Middle-Late Byzantine material from Sagalassos is pretty cool as well.  The main focus of the article is on a series of 12th-13th century layers from the Alexander Hill at the site of Sagalassos.  Over three seasons of excavation, the excavators uncovered the remains of a “heavily burned” destruction layer containing the remains of a short-lived occupation containing a significant and robust quantity of 12th-13th century Byzantine pottery.  This layer appears to represent the final phase of activity on this dramatic hill overlooking the ancient site of Sagalassos.  Early occupation on the hill included a 5th-6th century basilica that was almost completely removed and a later “refuge” of some description with a fortification wall and a substantial cistern.  Apparently the church was almost completely dismantled for the construction of the later refuge. The final destruction layer, which seems to represent the final layer of occupation, may represent an effort to dismantle the refuge to prevent it from being used again.

While the site history of the Alexander Hill is pretty interesting (particularly the dismantling of the church), the real meat of the article is in the analysis of the ceramic assemblage from the final layer.  While I would like to have understood the sampling method the produced the assemblage, the authors nevertheless conduct a rigorous and thorough examination of the material and take into account both “common ware” (which we would call medium coarse, coarse, and kitchen/cooking ware in chronotype terminology) and glazed table wares (fine and and semi-fine wares in our terminology).  Some of the glazed wares were repaired indicating that the objects had significant value to their owners.  The presence of repaired pots in an assemblage associated with the destruction of the site, however, suggests (to me at least) that these vessels were either discarded by the last occupants of the refuge or brought to the site by work crews commissioned to destroy or salvage the remains of the site. I wish the article had made considered more thoroughly the formation processes at play in the creation of the assemblage from the burned layer including the possible nature of activities at the final occupation phase of the site.  If these materials were left by work crews (like the material associated with the final phase of activity at Kourion), then the diet, ceramics used, and social standing of the individuals could suggest a different assemblage from that left behind by a family.

Despite the origin of the pottery in a layer associated with the site’s destruction and short term occupation, they regard the material as sufficient diverse to qualify as a use assemblage and, therefore, suitable for making larger arguments for the nature of Byzantine cooking practices, diet, and the circulation of Byzantine glazed pottery and utility ware forms.  This was all supported by residue analysis of individual vessels and the quantitative analysis of the entire assemblage.  Apparently the individuals at Sagalassos ate more beef and game than their Late Roman predecessors (who preferred lamb and goat).  Pretty neat stuff.

The article places the material from the assemblage at Sagalassos in the context of the Byzantine Eastern Mediterranean and it will be really useful as we look to document a site with a similar history at Polis in Cyprus.  The material present at Sagalassos has comparanda both on Cyprus and, unsurprisingly, at Corinth in Greece where the study of Byzantine pottery has long held pride of place.  The careful publication of an assemblage from a site like Sagalassos expands the base of evidence for the further study of Byzantine pottery.  The appearance of an article like this in Hesperia should show scholars that there are high-quality journals prepared and willing to publish similar papers.

P.S. Lest you think that I’m just a blogger, you’ll notice that David Pettegrew, Sarah James, and I also have an article in this volume: “Towers and Fortifications at Vayia in the Southeast Corinthia,” Hesperia 79 (2010), 385-415.

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