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More in Inequality in Justinian’s Corinth

December 15, 2010 Leave a comment

I've begun work on revising my Corinth in Contrast paper which I delivered in Austin in the fall at a conference of the same name (for a nice overview of the conference check out David Pettegrew's Corinthian Matters blog posts here and here and here).  The conference focused on inequality among the Corinthians, and my paper emphasized the role that political and ecclesiastical tensions may have played in creating regimes of power in the region.  To do so, I focused on various methods of asserting political and ecclesiastical power in the landscape and then sought to establish spaces of resistances within these methods.  In particular, I focused on the differences between subtle, non-monumental, and "marginal" activities, and dominant forms of political and religious power.  I tried to emphasize that various less structured forms of expression many not have conformed to a narrow view of "resistance" typified by violence and concerted political actions, but rather to a kind of resistance rooted in the concept of practice. In other words, I am looking for archaeological evidence that represents far more subtle forms of agency than traditional definitions of resistance.  Good examples of forms of resistance rooted in practice are graffiti, systematic tax evasion, feigned ignorance, gossip, and other techniques that are difficult to punish, protected by a degree of anonymity, and accessible to almost any group within society.

While most of these practices are unlikely to leave an archaeological trace (although an archaeology of gossip is interesting!), it is notable that the 6th century Corinthia witnessed a systematic and monumental campaign to impose imperial authority across the region.  The goals of this effort are difficult to imagine outside of a pattern of resistance.  The ecclesiastical tensions between the Emperor and various bishops of the province of Achaia who may have resisted imperial authority by remaining loyal to the papacy in Rome, provides a potential geopolitical justification of resistance.  Moreover, we know that such political and theological conflicts could manifest themselves in popular resistance.  Most famously:

"If you ask for your change, someone philosophizes to you in the Begotten and the Unbegotten. If you ask for the price of bread, you are told, "The Father is greater and the Son inferior." If you ask, "Is the bath ready?" someone answers, "The Sone was created from nothing."

Gregory of Nyssa, De Deitate Filii et Spiritus Sancti (trans. T.E. Gregory, Vox Populi (Columbus 1979), 3.

While the popular violence associated with theological disputes is well known, it suggests that seeming technicalities in theological language could evoke deep passions among everyday denizens of the Late Roman world. Such passion could, of course, manifest itself in more subtle ways as well as the better documented episodes of riotous violence.  Some of the everyday practices of resistance during the era of iconoclasm are suggestive.

This is a long introduction to some rather more mundane observations!

One of the least satisfactory sections of my paper had to deal with the role of imperial power on the bodies of Corinthians.   In the first draft of this paper, I imagined the impact of the imperial building policies on the Corinthian labor force. Workers from the local area would have undoubtedly contributed to the construction of the Lechaion Basilica (as well as the other 6th century churches in the area), the repairs to the Hexamilion wall and city wall of Corinth, and various other construction projects datable to the 6th century.  I suggested that some sense of identity for these workers derives from the presence of informally inscribed fish in the exterior wall plaster of many of these buildings.  It may be that this sign marked out the work of a local guild or as smaller work team and allowed the laborers to locate themselves amidst the monumental space of the 6th century Corinthia.

Over the past few weeks, I have the distinct pleasure of re-reading parts of Michael Given's 2004, The Archaeology of the Colonized (Routledge). Chapter six of this book is entitled "The Dominated Body" and Given makes several interesting observations about the place of the body is broadly construed "colonial regimes".  In particular, Given draws a case study from Roman Egypt where a "highly elaborate tax system" contributed to practices designed to dominate the body of Egyptian famers.  The center piece of his argument is a vivid fictional narrative of a visit by a family to local granary where their tax in kind was measured and certified.

This narrative reminded me of the famous(ish) passage in Procopius's Buildings 4.2.14 which describes the building of granaries throughout Greece. These granaries served to provision the soldiers that the emperor stationed there. This passages finds a complement in the Secret Histories 26.31-33 where Procopius tells us that the Emperor Justinian required the cities of Greece to fund the newly stationed soldiers in Greece, and this contingency deprived even Athens of public buildings and entertainments.  There is no reason to take these passages at face value, but, on the other hand, it is clear that Justinian had an active interest in reorganizing the logistical infrastructure of the empire with an eye toward providing supplies for his soldiers.  The presence of granaries in Greece would have visibly linked imperial policy with the collection of agricultural taxes from the local residents.  Some residents, then, would have to experience the act of delivering their crops into the imperial hands; in short, individual labor became imperial policy.

Another observation that Given offered regarding the impact of imperial policy on the body was the effect of walls on movement throughout the Egyptian countryside. He argued that many of the walls were not formal fortifications necessary, but sand fences (at best) or, in other cases, just informal markers. Both Procopius' text and archaeological evidence from the Corinthia have noted Justinian's interest in wall construction and repair.  Specifically, Justinian appears to have repaired the massive Hexamilion wall and probably the wall of the city of Corinth itself.  These two walls would have dominated passage across the Isthmus.  The individual would have had to pass through spaced marked out and defined by the non-local presence of the Emperor.

Making this all the more conspicuous is Justinian's used inscriptions tinged with ritually-charged utterances at gates to make political or theological statements.  So as Corinthian (and other) bodies passed through spaces marked out by imperial power, the walls themselves literally shouted out politically charged religious sentiments.  We know from other sites in the Mediterranean that roads, walls, and gates were common places for inscribed acclamations; in other words, places where bodies regularly passed were excellent places to commemorate other kinds of ritualized activities.  Ritual acclamations whether spontaneous or staged, then, further imbued these spaces with embodied knowledge.

As I work to revise my initially clumsy study of power differences across the Corinthian landscape, I am focusing more attention on the way in which imperial power sought to project authority into the landscape.  By critiquing the methods of projecting power, I think I am getting closer to understanding the conditions with create the kind of power differences that produce various kinds of inequality.

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Peer Review, Scholarship, and Blogs

November 17, 2010 Leave a comment

The conversation continues on the relationship between blogging and published scholarship. Increasingly, the central issue tends to be peer review.  Blogs are not peer reviewed; academic publications are. This dichotomy is important and represents the core generic difference between working papers and the final publications of result.  Unfortunately, these ideas have been twisted somehow (and I fear that scholars in the humanities have been responsible for this) to mean that only peer reviewed works have value and blogs and other informal types of “correspondence” (in the broadest sense) are not valuable, a waste of precious academic time and creativity, and, at very worst, a contribution of the glut of uncritical opinion that clutters the internet and threatens to crowd out careful, reasoned, thought.  (For more on these perspectives see here.)

Just this week, Michael O’Malley wrote a provocative blog post on the value of peer review entitled Googling Peer Review, Part Two on his Aporetic Blog.  He suggests that good or unorthodox work does not necessarily benefit from peer review and, in some case, might be good and unorthodox despite the peer review process.

I am not sufficiently brilliant to write good and unorthodox works.  At the same time, I am not completely sold in the universal value of peer review. While I’ll be the first to admit that peer review has significantly helped several of my published articles, I’ll also concede that most of the central ideas in my articles were unaffected by peer review (well, except those ideas that died in the peer review process, never to be heard from again!).  Most of the critiques offered by various peer reviewers focused on the clarity of our argument, provided references that we had overlooked, or identified different implications for our conclusions.  These were all helpful and meaningful contributions to our work, but ultimately none of these reviews changed the basic content of our contributions.

I’ll admit that the argument that I am making here comes on the heels of a particularly pleasant and uncontroversial peer review process for an article that, at its core, is little more than a glorified archaeological site report.  But it may be that this kind of article is the least deserving of peer review.  The formal publication of the article slowed down the circulation of information to colleagues and added little significant academic value to the basic results of our field work.  In fact, peer review strengthened our interpretative conclusions, but hardly made them unassailable.

So at least some of the issue is not peer review per se, but the nature of genre in academic writing.  As O’Malley’s post points out many of the most significant works of scholarship in the last 70 years were not peer reviewed in a traditional sense (and the same could also be said of  many of the least significant works as well).  The works identified by O’Malley tend to occupy unconventional academic genres which are least likely to benefit from traditional peer review; even today works like M. Foucault’s Discipline and Punish upset traditional disciplinary critiques, and E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class stands apart from nearly any work of history writing up until that time (or since).  In a more modest way, data driven archaeological reports fit into this category as well.  There is little that a peer review can provide a scholar aside from reminders of archaeological conventions and advanced copy editing.

To prove my point, I can offer as a case study a recent publication of mine.  Over the past two years, I blogged most of the content that appeared ultimately in our peer reviewed publication that appeared this past week.  I’ve appended a copy of our final article at end of this blogpost.  Of course, some of the final product reflects the hard work of the Hesperia editorial team who in many ways serve as another level of peer review because nearly all of them are practicing archaeologists with advanced graduate training the field. So, I am fudging a bit with this example.

Here are links to my various blog posts, conference papers, and working papers that led up to the final publication our work.  These received no formal peer review:

July 20, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: The Site of Ano Vayia
July 23, 2008: New Research on the Corinthian Countryside: Vayia Microregion
August 5, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: Distributional Data from the Site of Ano Vayia
August 12, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: The Lychnari Tower
August 19, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: The Passes of the Eastern Corinthia
August 25, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: Classical Vayia
September 1, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: History and Archaeology
September 8, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: Some More Contemporary Thoughts
January 12, 2009: Three New Sites in the Eastern Corinthia (W. Caraher and D. Pettegrew)
July 27, 2009: Viewsheds in the Eastern Corinthia
August 10, 2009: Working Paper: Towers and Foritfication at Vayia in the Southeast Corinthia (Caraher, Pettegrew, S. James)

The final publication:

Caraher Pettegrew James VayiaOffprint 2010 http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf?document_id=42994192&access_key=key-2wh8n3ocguqb9va13k&page=1&viewMode=list

Christians in Roman Space

November 15, 2010 Leave a comment

On the strength of a BMCR review, I spent the last few days reading Laura Salah Nasrallah’s Christian Responses to Roman Art and Architecture. (Cambridge 2010).  The book juxtaposes the works of several 2nd c. Christian “apologists” (Tatian, Justin, Athenagoras, and Clement of Alexandria) and the space of the Roman empire.  To do this, she parallels the texts with specific places within the Roman world (e.g. the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias or the Trajans forum) or specific works of art (e.g. statues of Commodus as Herakles or the Aphrodite of Knidos).  Both the texts, the space, and the works of art themselves fall significantly outside my area of expertise.  The approach, on the other hand, which assumes that texts are no more or nor less products of the same culture that produced understandable spaces and statues within the Roman world represents a significant interest to me.

In particular, I was intrigued by how Nasrallah used these texts as evidence for Christian response to the built environment of the Roman world.  Of course, this response was, to a certain extent, constructed by the author’s decision to juxtapose particular texts with particular environments (see the BMCR review for this observation), but, at the same time, the move to compare texts and monuments in a way that shed light on critical readings of built space was, to me at least, novel.  The alienated (or at least conflicted) posture of figures like Tatian when positioned opposite the imperial rhetoric of the Sebasteion is particular striking and reminds me of John Clarke’s more speculative approach to the reading of Trajan’s column in his Art in the lives of Ordinary Romans (Berkeley 2003) or some of the essays in J. Elsner’s Roman Eyes (Princeton 2007).

My impression is that Nasrallah’s use of texts was a convenient concession to traditional practices in art and architectural history and archaeology of the Classical World that continues to imagine texts as the point of departure for rigorous analysis of meaning and space.  When pushed a step further to deal exclusively with built environments in places uninformed by robust textual sources, the assumption that spaces can accommodate a wide range of viewers (including those bent on resisting, subverting, or even co-opting “intended messages”) becomes decidedly more foggy.  As the BMCR review noted, even Nasrallah moves cautiously in many cases when she enters into relationship between the act of reading a text and the act of reading a space or monument; the author is more willing to leave the texts juxtaposed than to bring out opportunities for mutual critique.

In my recent work on the monumental spaces of Justinianic Corinth (it is, on my blog, all about me, of course), I’ve had to confront a similar tension not between texts, but between monuments.  I shared Nasrallah’s assumption that it is possible to recover the resistance and critique of the built environment through juxtaposing different types of texts; for Corinth, however, these texts are not the literary (or even really epigraphical kind), but other roughly contemporary monuments.  Like Nasrallah and her authors, I have done what I can to understand the act of building as a response to particular (and maybe recoverable) activities within the physical environment. But this reading of the relationship between buildings captures only one response within a monumentalized discourse in the landscape. The ongoing dialog between experiences across the landscape continuously reinscribed monumental places with meanings and presented opportunities for resistance. The decision whether to resist, to critique, or to accept the meanings produced through the productive juxtaposition of places in the landscape returns agency to the viewer and undermines the power traditionally located in imperialist policies.

Nasrallah’s book provides a model for discerning the act of viewing within the Roman empire by expanding the notion of place to include texts which she demonstrates function according to a similar logic as monuments in the landscape.  By resisting the urge to offer definitive or rigid relationships between various more or less contemporary spaces within the ancient world, she resists the temptation to extend a valuable analysis of ways of viewing to specific acts of viewing.  In doing so, she both unpacks the act of viewing (and responding to) ancient art and architecture, and allows it to persist as an essentially ambiguous phenomenon resistant to even our most deeply positivist desire to essentialize.

David Pettegrew’s Setting Stage for St. Paul’s Corinth Available as Podcast or Streaming Video

October 25, 2010 1 comment

For those of you who could not make it to the David Pettegrew’s 2nd Annual Cyprus Research Fund Lecture, fear not!  We have made David’s lecture available as both a downloadable podcast and as a streaming video.

Here’s the podcast.

Here’s the video.

David’s two days on campus were really exciting.  Not only did he speak to over 50 faculty,undergraduates, graduate students, and members of the community on the Thursday afternoon talk, but he also contributed to the history department’s “brown bag” lecture series on Friday.  At his Friday talk, he presented a great primer to intensive survey archaeology and discussed the ideas of “source criticism” as applied to ancient material culture.  Finally, David took a couple of hours and read Latin with some of our graduate students and undergraduates at our weekly “Latin Friday Morning” reading group.

It is always gratifying to see how much interest there is in the Ancient Mediterranean at the University of North Dakota.  So, if you enjoyed the lecture with here at UND, thanks for coming out! And if you enjoy the lecture via the streaming video or podcast, thanks for listening!  I also should thank Chad Bushy and Caleb Holthusen from UND’s Center for Instructional and Learning Technologies office for not only preparing the video and podcasts, but trouble shooting during the live webcast.

And, finally, thanks to David Pettegrew for agreeing to spend his fall break with us at the University of North Dakota. For more on his research and the Roman and Late Roman Corinthia, check out his blog Corinthian Matters.

David Pettegrew on Corinth! Live on the Interwebs!

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Join us today for the 2010 Cyprus Research Fund Lecture: David Pettegrew’s “Setting the Stage for St. Paul’s Corinth: How the Isthmus Determined the Character of a Roman City.”  The talk is at 4 pm today in the East Asia Room of the Chester Fritz Library.

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If you’re not from Grand Forks, FEAR NOT!  We’ll also stream David’s talk for free on the interwebs!  Here’s the link.  Just log in a guest.  If you’re watching remotely and have a question for David, just Tweet it to me.  Here’s my Twitter account (@billcaraher) and use the hashtag: #CRF2010 at the end of your post.

Corinth in Contrast: Some Reflective Notes

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

I was fortunate enough to spend the last four days in Austin, Texas at the Corinth in Contrast conference.  The conference sought to bring together archaeologists working in Corinth and scholars interested in New Testament studies, particularly the work of Paul and his correspondents in Corinth.  The hope was to produce more informed scholars on both sides of the discussion: archaeologists, on the one hand, who have a better idea of the impact of their work on the field of New Testament studies, and, on the other hand, New Testament scholars who have a more solid grasp significant, ongoing work at Corinth.  As I’ve blogged here in the run up to the conference, the theme was “studies in inequality” and generally speaking the papers presented showed a real willingness to attempt to understand inequality in Hellenistic and Roman Corinth.

So, here are a few of my notes on what was a pretty illuminating four days:

1. While it comes as no surprise, the folks who studied the New Testament were generally more engaged with archaeology than the archaeologists were with New Testament texts. In fact, many of the New Testament scholars had significant experience doing field work or were directing their own projects.  This almost certainly followed the age old precedent of  Biblical archaeology, which one could argue dates to Late Antiquity and the excavations of St. Helena.  I couldn’t help think that archaeologists will probably benefit by the sustained interested in their field by New Testament scholars especially as resources to Classical studies continue to decline.

2. Mechanisms of inequality.  The scholars working in New Testament studies had much clearer ideas about how individuals or groups in Corinth produced inequality.  Steve Friesen and James Walters, for example, both argued that ritual forms of interaction served to reinforce and challenge (at different times) unequal relationships in the Pauline community.  Among the archaeologists, Guy Sanders identified share-cropping as a method for maintaining economic inequality and a cycle of dependency; Sarah James saw the political arrangements following the sack of Corinth in 146 as crucial context for a hitherto overlooked group of Corinthians who probably struggled for an economic and political place within Greek society as much as they have within the dominant historical narrative of the city.  Pettegrew suggested that inequality may have been a product of Corinth’s place as an emporium in the ancient world and seemed to suggest that market forced created a kind of inequality in a way that our image of a state sponsored diolkos would not. (The diolkos was the supposed road across the Isthmus of Corinth ostensibly designed to facilitate dragging ships between the Corinthian and Saronic gulf).

3. Inequality and Marx.  One thing that really struck me as a historian was the almost complete absence of Marx from the conference. Marx, to my mind, was the foremost theorist of inequality in the academic world today.  In fact, it would be fair to suggest that Marx’s critique of social inequality was central to our imagining of a future where social, economic, and political inequality did not exist.  While it is always easy to say that Marx lurked in the background of many of these papers (and to be fair Guy Sanders did mention Marx and James Walters referenced Althusser), it really amazed me that Marx’s interest in the material conditions of inequality and his later use by so many literary theorists did not form a central axis around which New Testament scholars and archaeologists could find common methodological ground.

4. Religion and Inequality.  It’s hardly surprising, of course, that a conference that combines New Testament scholars and archaeologists would understand religion to be a major mechanism for producing (and challenging) inequality in the ancient world, but at the same time, it was remarkable to see the difficulty archaeology has in penetrating the dense intersection of cult, economy, and society.  Ron Stroud’s paper on Corinthian Magic and Ritual did the best at this by looking at the archaeological evidence for the activities surrounding the use of curse tablets at the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Corinth during the Roman period.  He was successful in suggesting that the rituals surrounding the use of curse tablets represented the activities of a group who were alienated from access to more highly structured and regulated types of religious power.  In the case of the curse tablets from Demeter and Kore at Corinth, these individuals appeared to be women who sought recourse to both personal and social grievances by appeals to black magic.

5. Historical Inequality. One thing that wanted to hear more about at the conference is the historiography (if you will) of inequality.  In other words, I wanted to understand a bit more about how our expectations and understanding of (in)equality have shaped our reading of the ancient world. Steve Fiesen’s opening remarks prompted me to consider the crucial link between teaching about inequality in the past and producing a better future.  Michael White’s closing remarks returned to some of these point by pointing out how different expectations of equality were in the ancient world and how the elaborately dendridic systems of patronage the created social cohesion, in fact, relied upon certain expectations of inequality to function. If nothing else the relationship between the patron and client (in its simplest form) implied a difference in power between the two parts of the dyad. A couple of papers suggested that the inequality of the ancient world depended, at least in part, on our approach to the past, how we have organized our evidence from the past, and what we think it means.  Sarah Lepinski for example, pointed out that the lack of interest in Roman wall painting and the social and cultural networks involved in its production stemmed in part from the way tendency in the modern nation of Greece to overlook a “colonial” period in its own history.  By overlooking the Roman period we have consigned Roman Greeks to an unequal status both to the dominant Roman power and to earlier “free” Greeks of the Classical period.

The opportunity to contemplate these ideas was the product of a brilliantly organized conference with plenty of time for informal discussions, engaging plenary sessions, and fantastic logistical coordination. The conference experience easily ranks among the best that I’ve encountered.  Thanks to everyone involved from the organizers, Steve Friesen, Daniel Schowalkter, and Sarah James to the graduate assistant Ann Morgan!

One more thing, David Pettegrew has promised some comments of his own on the conference over at his new Corinthian Matters blog.  They aren’t posted yet, but keep your eyes peeled!

Ambivalent Landscapes of the 6th century at Corinth in Contrast

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog know (here and here), I’ve been working on a conference paper for the Corinth in Contrast Conference at the end of this week.  This paper is, in effect, an archaeological and architectural argument for the impact of Justinian on the Corinthian Isthmus.  (These ideas developed, more or less, from my analysis of a pair of texts that reference Justinian from the Isthmus).

You’ve read the drafts, so here’s the paper:

Caraher Ambivalent Landscape 2010
http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf?document_id=38304843&access_key=key-29s5z4gyidaj9o4ldpu0&page=1&viewMode=list