contributor.author: Franziska Schlosser

title.none: Dark, ed., Secular Buildings (Franziska Schlosser)

identifier.other: baj9928.0602.008 06.02.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Franziska Schlosser, Concordia University, schlosse@vax2.concordia.ca

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Dark, Ken, ed. Secular Buildings and the Archaeology of Everyday Life in the Byzantine Empire. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2004. Pp. 132. ISBN: $45.00 1-84217-105-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.02.08

Dark, Ken, ed. Secular Buildings and the Archaeology of Everyday Life in the Byzantine Empire. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2004. Pp. 132. ISBN: $45.00 1-84217-105-4.

Reviewed by:

Franziska Schlosser
Concordia University
schlosse@vax2.concordia.ca

In his Introduction, Ken Dark explains that the slim volume critiqued here originated in the 2001 Summer Symposium of the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Reading. He sees the success of this symposium as an important factor in the subsequent establishment of the Research Centre for Late Antiquity and Byzantine Studies at Reading. The book, however, is, according to its editor, not simply the publication of papers presented at the symposium but focuses on an academic theme, namely "The archaeology of everyday life in the Byzantine Empire and, especially, the archaeology of secular domestic structures" (1). Dark continues by pointing to the importance of reconstructing day-to-day life, and how this is generally achieved by conventional archaeological research worldwide with the notable exception of the Byzantine world, which remains largely unexplored. Historians have studied everyday life elsewhere, yet the material evidence of Byzantine society, according to Dark, continues to be relatively unstudied. He concludes correctly that this may be the result of what he calls the "rather checkered history" of archeological studies of Byzantine sites. Until recently, Byzantine deposits have been "shoveled away" on sites to be investigated for layers pre-dating the Byzantine period. Mainstream developments in archaeological methods and theory have been disregarded by archaeologists of the Byzantine world who have been, and still are, primarily focused on works of art, and architecture of a mainly ecclesiastical nature. Although recent publications have been looking at Byzantine towns, village life and farms, the study of "how most of the Byzantine population actually lived," is still neglected by archaeologists today (1). There is little material evidence known that relates to everyday life after c. 700, yet the later period of the Byzantine Empire is essential for our understanding of the social and economic history of this long-lived Empire. One may add to this that the lack of tangible evidence of everyday life in the later period has given rise to not a few misconceptions concerning the nature of the Byzantine Empire. The book discussed here purports to draw attention to the archaeology of everyday life. It is conceived as a beginning aimed at stimulating discussions and further archaeological work. For this reason, it neither offers final statements or definitive collections of material. The papers published here are not addressing a unified set of arguments, and have been written independently of each other. These papers are presented in five chapters with each being followed by its own set of notes and a bibliography, and there is no index.

The first chapter is by Jan Kostenec, and has as its subject "The Heart of Empire: The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors Reconsidered," (4-36). In a short introduction, Kostenec states that although almost nothing of the early Imperial Palace has survived, textual evidence tells of a huge complex stretching from the Hippodrome to the Marmara shore by the tenth century. The centre of this complex was the palace of Constantine the Great that had become known as the Daphne. Little of this early palace has been excavated, but written sources describing its layout can be used as a starting point for considering the buildings of the Great Palace. To help the reader conceptualize these buildings a numbered plan and two figures are provided. The author leads us to "The Courtyard of the Daphne," "The Covered Hippodrome," "The Justinianos," "The Apsed Hall and Walker Trust Peristyle." He follows "Connections between the main terraces," guides us to "The Magna and palace guards quarter," describes "Buildings erected by Theophilus and Basil I," and "The Boukoleon Palace." Kostenec states in a brief conclusion that the mixture of detailed historical analysis and architectural analogy that he used to reconstruct the layout of the Great Palace is helpful. At the same time, he is aware of the limitations of textual evidence, and the need for archaeological investigation to fully appreciate the everyday activities of the life of the Byzantine court. The chapter has extensive notes, 191 in all, and, as can be expected given that it is a reconstruction of the Great Palace from literary texts, a large bibliography.

The next chapter by Simon Ellis offers a study of "Early Byzantine Housing." Ellis considers such a study of ancient housing to be a study of the individual in society. It supposedly reveals much about a person's taste whereas public buildings are indicators of social norms. Yet, to Ellis, even the private dwelling is still mediated by public norms in rooms that are representative of status and wealth but is also limited by what is available. In the words of Ellis, "...for a modern house owner choice of wallpaper is limited to what is in the catalogue" (37). The design of an excavated house must then be judged as to how much of it can be attributed to individual taste, and how much of it to general trends of the time. The latter can be established by comparing similar contemporary houses. The difficulty of finding parallels, according to Ellis, lies in the very incomplete record we have of Roman housing so that some features may be seen as being merely eccentricities. The article is an updated version of Ellis' doctoral thesis (1984), completing it with recent historiographical advancement up to 2001. Ellis finds it hard to believe that Byzantine studies still lack reports on both animal bones and the environment since such studies have become commonplace in western Europe since early 1970. After a brief "Typology of the Early Byzantine House" the author discusses "Type 1--peristyle houses," "Type 2--the Early Byzantine House," "Type 3--'native' or vernacular housing," "Type 4 Subdivision," and adds a small section on "Furniture." Ellis expresses hope in his conclusion that by 2015, excavations on Middle and Late Byzantine sites in central Anatolia will include records of animal bone and environmental studies. He intimates that he is searching for comprehensive answers in order to develop the "rich archaeological picture" (51) necessary for a correct interpretation of social, economic and cultural change from Late Antiquity to the Byzantine period.

In chapter three, Lefertis Sigalos looks at "Middle and Late Byzantine Houses in Greece (tenth to fifteenth centuries)." In the introduction to his article, Sigalos quotes Christos Bouras as noting that it may be a mistake to seek general typological and stylistic characteristics of the houses of the Byzantines (54). Excavations reveal housing patterns of individual settlements but don't provide data on which to base general conclusions. The author continues declaring his intention of limiting his dataset to what lies now within the borders of modern Greece. Chronologically, the study covers the Middle and Late Byzantine/Frankish periods. Sigalos explains that the Middle period had been one of recovery of the Byzantine state, and archaeological data supports this assumption. This revival came to an end in 1204, with crusaders of the Fourth Crusade taking Constantinople, and thereby ushering in the "Frankish" period. Regardless of this traumatic occurrence, the disruption of the state's administrative continuity is not reflected in the countryside which continued to flourish as testified by its material culture. With the imposition of a quasi-feudal system, and its pattern of endless warfare, however, the fragmentation of the state allowed the advance of the Ottoman Turks across Anatolia into the Balkans leading to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The author divides the article into "The Middle Byzantine Period" and "The Frankish or Late Byzantine Period." The Middle period is characterized by signs of revival as attested by a series of churches belonging to this period. Besides churches there is evidence of workshops, commercial buildings, domestic structures and manufacturing activity in Corinth, Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Thessaloniki, Megara, Chalkis and elsewhere (55). These cities follow in general the layout known from Late Antiquity stimulated by the substantial ruins of the earlier period. In "The Frankish or Late Byzantine Period," the countryside is dominated by Frankish castles. Settlements or kastra that is fortified settlements providing security for local rulers, were dotting the landscape of mainland Greece as well as the Peleponnese. The outstanding example of this kastroktisia (castle-building) is Mistra. In his conclusion, Sigalos sees the aim of his evaluation of domestic architecture of the Middle and Late Byzantine/Frankish periods as to give an overview of the diversity of domestic architecture. This approach allowed the author to raise questions of a social nature, thereby providing insights into Byzantine society of the tenth to fifteenth centuries "viewed through the domestic milieu" (77). The house types reveal considerable varieties of ways of life. Sigalos suggests that further archaeological discoveries and a multidisciplinary approach of the data, including wills and laws, will enrich our understanding of Byzantine domestic space. He quotes Kazhdan and Constable encouraging us to imagine a wide variety of homines Byzantini. The article is replete with photographs and line drawings, and has a large bibliography (77-81) with references in the text.

Anthea Harris is the author of chapter four "Shops, retailing and the local economy in the Early Byzantine world: the example of Sardis." According to Harris, "shops" have only recently attracted the attention of archaeologists in the Eastern Mediterranean world. They are identified as "shops" on the base of architectural structure, and are usually small rectilinear rooms arranged in rows along urban streets with each room having its own entrance. The article is a critique of the archaeological report published by J. Stephen Crawford on what is now commonly known as "the Byzantine shops" at Sardis. The report forms the basis of this article. What then are these "Byzantine shops?" They are comprised of 31 small rectilinear structures, each being topped by an upstairs room, and they are strung along the south wall of a Bath-Gymnasium complex. Some of the structures had glazed windows on the first floor. The whole row of shops was finally destroyed in a fire that was so fast that it preserved some of the contents of the burned structures in situ. It is this that gives these "shops" a special importance as evidence for Late Antiquity shops in the Eastern Mediterranean. There is a general shortage of material, architectural and other from "shop" sites, and this, to Harris, justifies a new analysis of the shops at Sardis so as to shed more light on the economic life of the place in the fifth- and sixth century. The author cautions that a new interpretation calls into question whether the "Byzantine shops" at Sardis have indeed been shops. First the "Byzantine shops" at Sardis are described in a short section, followed by a chronology, and an interpretation of the architectural evidence. The largest part of this article is comprised of an interpretation of the evidence found on the site (92-119). This interpretation is intriguing, assuming the existence of a restaurant based on finds of animal bones, shellfish and glass goblets. There was, however, only one plate found there which leads Harris to question how the food was eaten in this supposed restaurant (93). The lack of built in benches too has raised question about this "eating place." Some rooms at the site had a deposit of a red-orange material which led to the assumption that these "shops" had been in the dye business. Harris herself is not totally sure that this was indeed the business of these places. This reviewer was surprised that dye shops should have been placed so close to an eating establishment, and domestic dwellings boasting a portico, and mosaic floors in front. Dyers were outcasts of a sort because of their dirty hands and clothing, and the smells originating from their work didn't make them welcome either. In Medieval Venice, it was believed that the district where the dyers lived and worked was bewitched. [1] Having reflected on this, it would strike one as unusual to have dyers placed in the midst of the other "Byzantine shops" at Sardis. Harris concludes her chapter saying that what the excavation of these "shops" indicates is a by far better living standard of its inhabitants than hitherto assumed. The dwellings resemble the houses lived in by an urban middle class and contain some objects normally seen as belonging to an upper class. The inhabitants, according to Harris, might be termed as the "wealthy poor" (119). Dating the site to fifth- to seventh century is facilitated by small hoards of coins found in situ. Harris concludes saying that she sees no irrefutable evidence that the function of the structures described in the report of Crawford are indeed "shops" rather than "workshops," and cautions that many places referred to as "shops" may have to be reexamined. This chapter too is well illustrated with line drawings and photographs. Notes and a bibliography complete the piece.

The last chapter in this little book is on "Everyday Artefacts as Indicators of Religious Belief in Byzantine Palestina [sic]," by Eliya Rybac. The author asks what the relationship is between everyday objects and religious belief. The standard answer of the archaeologist would be, "one cannot correlate artefacts bearing religious symbols with the religion of their users" (123). There is, it seems, a methodological problem but says Rybac it may be that there are special circumstances in Byzantine Palestine that still allow a method discarded elsewhere to be applied. It is difficult to assign places in Byzantine Palestine to a specific religious group unless there is textual evidence. Rybac points out, however, that religious communities in Byzantine Palestine can be established by their dietary practices. The study of animal bones and seafood remnants may give indication of who lived at a given site. Another indicator of a Jewish community may be the presence of a miqves, a Jewish ritual bath which is, however, infrequently found in private dwellings. The most common artifacts are oil lamps depicting either a menorah or a cross as a religious symbol. Rybac describes several sites and their finds where religious symbols and animal bones seem to agree and carry the message of being either Christian or Hebrew. In the mind of the chapter's author this raises the possibility that religious symbols on artifacts can be used as a guide to map the religious beliefs of the population of Byzantine Palestine, even if this is in direct opposition to conventional archaeological arguments. Using the evidence from religious structures, Rybac concludes that there is a clear connection between religious symbols and the people who used the artifacts bearing them. The anomalies that tend to occur are explained here as stemming from the close relationship between the two religious communities. The author concludes that this is less "far fetched" as it may seem. He suggests that correlating religious identity and symbolism may proof useful at other sites in the Byzantine world. This chapter too has a set of notes (mostly in Hebrew), and a bibliography at the end.

In conclusion, the articles in this book are as far ranging as promised by Ken Dark in his introduction. They are informative, and largely of interest to archaeologists, except for the first chapter which contains much that will appeal to a more general readership. The illustrations are helpful and so are the rather full bibliographies. One can only hope that the wish expressed by the book's editor will come true and that it will stimulate the archaeology of everyday life which, by definition, is wide ranging, and encourage the study of domestic structures.

Notes: 1. Ingrid Szabolcs,"Untersuchungen von Farbstoffen und Färbemethoden an spätantiken Stoffen," in Mitteilungen zur christlichen Archäologie Band 11, Wien 2005, p. 80.