Michael Decker

title.none: Lefort, et al., eds., Les Villages dans l'Empire byzantin (Michael Decker)

identifier.other: baj9928.0701.018 07.01.18

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Decker, University of South Florida, mdecker@cas,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Lefort, Jacques, Cécile Morrison, and Jean-Pierre Sodini, eds. Les Villages dans l"Empire byzantin, IVe-Xve-siècle. Realites Byzantines 11. Paris: Lethielleux, 2005. Pp. 591. ISBN: $50.00 (pb) ISBN 10: 2-283-60461-3, ISBN-13: 978-2-2-283-6046-1-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.01.18

Lefort, Jacques, Cécile Morrison, and Jean-Pierre Sodini, eds. Les Villages dans l"Empire byzantin, IVe-Xve-siècle. Realites Byzantines 11. Paris: Lethielleux, 2005. Pp. 591. ISBN: $50.00 (pb) ISBN 10: 2-283-60461-3, ISBN-13: 978-2-2-283-6046-1-8.

Reviewed by:

Michael Decker
University of South Florida

Only rarely do edited volumes address fundamental topics thoroughly, and rarer still are those that draw on a bright constellation of scholars in a range of disciplines from more than a dozen countries. Les villages dans l'Empire byzantin (IVe-Xve siècle) (hereafter "Villages") does exactly this. The majority of those scholars with a major interest in the Byzantine countryside in any period of the empire's history have contributed, and the mix of archaeologists and historians is truly impressive. With more than thirty-eight contributions, it is impossible in a brief review to provide details of each paper; rather I will attempt to cover some of the highlights and pinpoint how they address broad and specific issues.

At first I thought that the ambitious title would lead to disappointment; the stated chronological scope of the work is quite ambitious to be handled in one volume. Additionally, little archaeological fieldwork has emerged from the middle and late periods of Byzantine history over large portions of the empire, so it seemed that the desired geographical balance would be impossible to achieve. In reality, the editors have clearly made a wise choice to choose later period material over work done in the early Byzantine period (still maddeningly referred to as "protobyzantine" by many French scholars): a full 21 contributions deal, at least in part, with post-sixth century Byzantium. Syria-Palestine, where Jean-Pierre Sodini has done such excellent work over the years, is represented as the former explores, along with A.-M. Eddé, "Les villages de Syrie du Nord du VIIe au XIIIe siècle." They offer a fine blend of textual and archaeological evidence to show the ebb and flow of village settlement on a regional scale in the Limestone Massif behind Antioch. Sodini helps us to modify the thesis of Tchalenko and begin to answer more precisely the issue of what happened to the hinterland of one of the greatest cities of early Byzantium. This work is of wider importance as a good departure piece for those wishing to address the issues of the post-Byzantine landscape of the east. A piece of M.-O. Rousset and C. Duvette, "L'elevage dans la steppe à l'époque byzantine: indices archéologiques," which offers a portion of the work by the French survey of about 10,000 square kilometers of Syria, is interesting, but much more of the material must be made available, and one hopes that it will appear quickly now that the project is finished. Further, there are interesting contributions by Yizar Hirschfeld on the expansion of rural settlement in Palestine and numismatic studies by Tasha Vorderstrasse, who examines material from the recent University of Chicago Amuq excavations; the data here meshes well with Sodini/Eddé as well as the publications from the Amuq Survey [1]: settlement and monetization likely dipped substantially after the Muslim conquest, then recovered in the Middle Byzantine phase of the city, where Antioch once more became integrated into the economy of the empire.

Coverage on Egypt is provided by a chapter by Roger Bagnall "Village and City: Geographies of Power in Byzantine Egypt," in which he outlines the evidence for village hierarchy in the late antique Fayyum; a valuable contribution, but we come away with nothing of the total view of the morphology of villages in Egypt, a situation only moderately remedied by James Keenan's fascinating glimpse of his work on the Ayyubid bureaucrat al-Nabulsi, who toured the Fayyum on a fact-finding mission in the 1240s A.D. It is difficult not to lament the feeling that Egypt's "special place," which Professor Keenan has so thoughtfully traced and spoken on, remains dominant within the field of Byzantine studies.

One of the great gaps in the study of life in the empire has been the Black Sea region, where eastern European scholars have been working for decades with little interface with western outlets for publication. As access to Russian, rare even during the Cold War, has virtually vanished from the scholarly arena in the United States, it is with particular gratitude that the editors made the effort to include several fine publications in French on the Black Sea coast which provide a rich perspectives from a variety of disciplines, including numistmatics: Ernest Olberländer-Târnoveanu, "Les échanges dans le monde rural byzantin de l'est des Balkans (VIe-XIe siècle)," whose snapshot of the ebbs and flow of monetization of the countryside provides a study that will be of durable value, both for its own sake and in intra-regional comparison; and Emilian Popescu also focuses on the Dobrudja region and adopts a similar long-term approach, this time in exploring the physical remains of villages, which show strong vital signs deep into the medieval era. Other Bulgarian work, including that of Raso Ra¡ev, Vencislav Din¡ev and Boris Borissov ("Le village byzantin sur le territoire de la Bulgaria contemporaine") offers a succinct synthesis of Balkan village structures over the empire's history, but the sites here are limited in number, and like so many of the studies of "Villages," calls for even more work. For those interested in the northern limits of imperial rule, two fascinating contributions by Andreï Sazanov and Alexander Aibabin, go far to address a serious lacuna in western Byzantinists' knowledge of the Crimea.

The southern and western Balkans and the territory of modern Greece occupy much of the book. Few areas of the empire have witnessed fruitful landscape survey and archaeology of medieval villages, and a real strength of "Villages" is the body of pieces that build on the significant repertoire of data already published from Macedonia, Greece, and the Aegean. The diversity of subjects covered: metallurgy (B. Pitarakis "Témoignage des objets métalliques dans le village médiéval (Xe-XIVe siècle)" a comparative study of peasant metal product and technologies), onomastics (Vassiliki Kravari: Le prénom des paysans en Macédoine orientale (Xe-XIVe siècle)" and Kônstantinos Moustakas "Les registres Ottomans les plus anciens comme source pour l'histoire Byzantine tardive"), village form and function (Jaques Lefort "Les villages de Macédoine orientale au Moyen âge (Xe-XIVe siècle)"; Charalambos Gasparis, "Il villaggio a Creta Veneziana XIII-XV sec.", Ljubomir Maksimovi¡ and Marko Popovi¡. "Le village en Serbie médiévale") and village art and architecture (Maria Panayotidi "Village painting and the question of local "workshops," and Linda Safran "The art of veneration: Saints and villages in the Salento and the Mani.")

A clear comparative framework is articulated: material evidence in the form of small finds, coins, and architectural remains predominate, but there are fine contributions based on texts as well. Further, "Villages" juxtaposes local and regional pictures against one another, but effectively goes beyond this. While the rural space of the medieval west has been far more deeply explored than the eastern countryside, there has been a dearth of exchange between the two fields. "Villages" again breaks new ground by including comparative studies from outside the empire (Chris Wickham, "The development of villages in the west, 300-900," and Benoît Cursente, "Les villages dans l'Occident médiéval (IXe-XIVe siècle)"). Much more dialogue is needed before we are able to learn what we like from one another, but this volume is certainly a step in the right direction.

I have only minor criticisms of the work. There are no general maps on which to fix both the broad regions explored nor to locate individual sites discussed. This detracts from the value of many of the otherwise finely produced local maps. Secondly, it is quite disappointing that Klaus Belke's "Das Byzantinishce dorf in Zentralanatolien" is the only work that covers the Anatolian heartland of the empire. Although the archaeology of medieval Turkey lags, work like that of Douglas Baird on the Konya Plain should have been included to redress the balance of the book. Having said that, the work stands as a supremely valuable reference for those wishing to know more about peculiar aspects of rural life, as well as a primary departure point for scholars wishing to explore several areas of the Byzantine landscape. "Villages" does create many avenues for discussion and future inquiry and delivers of a wealth of quality synthesis. It will certainly endure as a valuable contribution for many years to come.

1. K. Aslihan Yener, The Amuq Valley Regional Projects, Volume 1: Surveys in the Plain of Antioch and Orontes Delta, Turkey, 1995-2002. Oriental Institute Publications, Chicago, 2005.

Medieval Review Decker