15.08.60 , Stewart, Davis, and Carr, eds., Cyprus and the Balance of Empires

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Justine M. Andrews

The Medieval Review 15.08.60

Stewart, Charles Anthony, Thomas W. Davis, and Annemarie Weyl Carr, eds. Cyprus and the Balance of Empires: Art and Archaeology from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion. American Schools of Oriental Research, Archaeological Reports, 20; CAARI Monograph Series, 5. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2014. pp. xviii, 268. ISBN: 978-0897570732 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Justine M. Andrews
University of New Mexico

It might seem surprising to find that Byzantine art and archaeology have not always been at the forefront of Cypriot studies. To be sure, there have been enormous steps forward over the last forty years in the study of the Byzantine period of the island. The Cyprus Department of Antiquities, Dumbarton Oaks, The Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI), and the University of Cyprus's Archaeological Research Unit, among other international archaeological teams and scholars, have persistently researched and pursued the many questions surrounding the complex period from approximately the fourth century AD to the conquest of the island by King Richard I in 1191. This volume brings together a distinguished group of scholars from the fields of archaeology, art history, and history to reveal new archaeological findings and explore current questions such as the role of identity and influence in the material and visual culture of Byzantine Cyprus.

The publication is the outcome of an international conference of the same name, organized by CAARI in 2011. Twelve essays and one appendix are coupled with copious high quality photographs, plans, charts, diagrams, and maps, and each author offers new evidence and new perspectives on the visual and material culture of Byzantine Cyprus. Stewart's preface outlines the complex history of the island from the time of Constantine (c. 332 AD) through the Arab innovations in the mid-seventh century, the reconquest by Byzantium in 965, and the following years of growth amidst rebellions. Stewart also highlights the interdisciplinary nature of the studies and presents the reader with a series of questions that are explored throughout the volume. Particularly striking is the characterization of Cyprus as "in between" (xi). The notion of Cyprus as crossroads, entrepĂ´t, or site of convergence, and the consequent effects on the history and artistic culture of the island have long been considered by scholars. Yet here Stewart and the contributors seem to breathe new life into this notion by taking on this tumultuous period and exploring Cyprus as a site between centers of power, or empires. This "in between-ness" plays out in many of the chapters as "and" rather than "or," meaning Cyprus is presented as semi-independent and semi-dependent; imagery was influenced by metropolitan/imperial sources and local traditions; visual culture works between innovation and continuity.

The opening chapter, "The Significance of the Basilica at Agioi Pente of Yeroskipou," by Demetrios Michaelides presents an enlightening, however preliminary, account of excavations at this Early Christian site after it experienced much earlier damage. The project undertaken by the University of Cyprus's Archaeological Research Unit has unearthed coins, floor mosaics, roof tiles, glass panes, goblets, and lamps, as well as tombs with some personal items like enkolpia (pendant necklaces with images of holy figures on them) and fragments of textiles. The material dating from the fifth century to the seventh begins to fill a lacuna in scholarship for the Early Christian period of the site, which had previously been dateable only as early as the nearby eighth-century basilica Agia Paraskevi.

The second chapter, "A Brief History of Byzantine Archaeological Research on Cyprus," seems slightly out of place, as it is a substantial introduction to the history of Byzantine archaeology on Cyprus. Thomas W. Davis and Charles Anthony Stewart give the important outline of the history of scholarship on Early Byzantine material culture on Cyprus. It includes the involvement of the Department of Antiquities and the historical circumstances of colonial rule, independence, war, and division. The chapter also outlines and acknowledges the difficulties and limitations for archaeological work and research after 1974 and the inaccessibility of sites outside the Republic of Cyprus. Finally, more current efforts are mentioned such as the recent finds of the Department of Antiquities and the University of Cyprus, as well as the significant acquisition of two research collections by the Schaffer Library at CAARI. These resources allow this historical outline to end on a positive note with hope for continued and further archaeological research on Byzantine Cyprus.

In "Christianity in Cyprus in the Fourth to Seventh Centuries," Claudia Rapp highlights Sts. Barnabas and Epiphanius as well as John of Alexandria (or the Almsgiver) and the hagiographical texts by Leontios of Neopolis. She notes that the expressions of the saints' cults were similar on Cyprus to regional histories, and yet Cyprus in the fifth century constructed a history and Christian traditions that were also local and attest to its independence.

In the period he calls the "twilight between classical antiquity and the Middle Ages" (40), Marcus Rautman explores in chapter four the growing importance of rural settlements in the Byzantine Empire's organization. The area of the Troodos mountain range, while best known for its painted Byzantine churches from the twelfth century, was in this earlier period a network of connectivity for agriculture and mining. Using archaeological and literary sources on rural life in Cyprus, the article emphasizes the rich site of Kopetra, south of the Troodos in the Vasilikos valley. The details of sculpture and architecture show an investment in that area. While it is challenging to understand rural lives from the earliest Byzantine period, the Cypriot countryside shows that "inhabitants adapted constantly to urban interests and outside powers" (53).

In chapter five, D.M. Metcalf introduces important evidence for considering the Early Byzantine period of Cyprus: coins and lead seals. His chapter, "The North-South Divide in Byzantine Cyprus: Some Evidence from Lead Seals and Coins," seeks to understand what coins and lead seals contribute to our understanding of the politics and economic life of Cyprus from the period following the Arab invasions through the tenth century. A repeated theme that emerges is that most Byzantine finds appear in the north coastal region, presenting a different chronological profile and character from finds on the south coast (64). The lead seals show that the period focused on restoring the old order of government by continuing administration while changing the categories of leadership (63).

In one of the richest studies in this volume, Eleni Procopiou reveals the fascinating preliminary results from excavations on the Akrotiri Peninsula on the southern coast of Cyprus. "The Katalymata ton Plakoton: New Light from the Recent Archaeological Research in Byzantine Cyprus" presents us with a tantalizing view into what is a much larger and "yet to be systematically excavated" Akrotiri Peninsula. The excavation of Katalymata ton Plakoton has revealed a large Early Byzantine ecclesiastical complex, of which the western part and one church have been excavated. The details of this site are presented with stunning photographs and careful diagrams. Procopiou leads us through the spaces and material of the three-aisled transept basilica in a clear and systematic way. She follows this with literary and historical context that allows her to make important preliminary conclusions. By comparisons to other structures in Alexandria, the form of the church suggests functions of both a martyrium and a liturgical space. Procopiou makes a strong argument for a date in the mid-seventh century and a connection to the refugees who fled Jerusalem and Alexandria in 617. The material presented by Procopiou is exciting for the new light it sheds on this complex period and it will be an important resource for many scholars of the architecture, art, and religious history of the island.

Taking yet another perspective on the period, chapter seven by M. Tahar Mansouri gives us a view of Cyprus from the standpoint of Arabic writers. Evident throughout most of this volume is the complexity of the historical period under discussion. One part of that complexity lies in the relationship of Byzantine Cyprus to the Arab world and the emerging Islamic rule of the Umayyads. The article outlines three main themes within the Arabic sources 1) the resources of the island seen through the social, political, and economic contexts; 2) the conquest of the island by the Arabs; and 3) the relationship of Cyprus with neighboring Arabs following that period. This includes texts regarding the breaking of the treaty between Cyprus and the Arabs, which caused a temporary deportation of Cypriots to Syria. Further texts describe the manner of interaction and relationship between the Umayyad Muslim population and the Cypriots. The only contribution published in French, this chapter is an essential one for seeing Cyprus from many perspectives and beginning to untangle complicated political interactions within the Mediterranean.

In chapter eight, Charles Stewart begins with a short historiography regarding the study of Byzantine architecture on Cyprus. He also includes an insightful discussion regarding the persistent use of "binary models" that frames his own methodological approach in the process (108). "The Development of Byzantine Architecture on Cyprus" provides evidence for a change of perspective from the persistent comparison of Cypriot architecture to imperial examples from Constantinople. Focusing on examples from after the Byzantine reconquest in 965 and acknowledging that the boost to material culture and architecture in particular is not evident until later in the eleventh century, Stewart presents a more nuanced view of the extant monuments. He shows that while some forms suggest imperial investment and influence, others can be traced more directly to Georgian and Armenian sources. He concludes "Cypriot master builders could experiment with local building traditions, leading to innovation" (128).

In chapter nine, "Cypriot Icons before the Twelfth Century," Sophocles Sophocleous gives a detailed stylistic and, where possible, material analysis of both documented and surviving icon panel paintings from Cyprus before the twelfth century. He uses texts and comparisons to extant murals to provide evidence for stylistic dating and context. Sophocleous identifies both internal developments and external influences in the icons. The author stresses the preliminary nature of the survey and the need for further research.

Maria Parani approaches another difficult topic in "The Stuff of Life: The Material Culture of Everyday Living on Middle Byzantine Cyprus (11th-12th centuries)." The author acknowledges the limitations of archaeological evidence and reminds us that we must use written sources and artistic sources (wall paintings) from this period (965-1184) to try to understand more fully the day-to-day culture. She sketches the difficult beginnings of a study of material culture and notes several new excavations that are shedding light on this topic, namely, the ancient theater at Neo Paphos, ecclesiastical buildings at the Hill of Agios Georgios, and the Palaion Demarcheion (154). Parani gives a few tantalizing examples of enkolpia, personal steatite or copper icons, metal dishes, and ceramics to flesh out our understanding of daily life on Cyprus. Chapter ten is followed by an appendix in which Vasiliki Kassianidou offers the results of a composition analysis of a copper-alloy dish of the Middle Byzantine Period (A. Pitsillides Collection). This scientific analysis using an XRF analyzer provides an in-depth look into the metallurgy of the object and suggests some similarities to Islamic objects.

Progressing in what is the chronological framework of the volume, Annemarie Weyl Carr's chapter addresses the early twelfth century when the artistic styles of the Komnenian court emerged and flourished in Cypriot painting. Carr addresses the difficulty of assessing material given the inaccessibility of many churches in the northern region of the island. She notes that one site, the Holy Trinity Chapel at the Monastery of St. John Chrysostom in Koutsovendis, has been documented and studied, and provides the only visual narrative for this pivotal period of painting. With this research Carr introduces another church, which has recently been cleaned and conserved, the Panagia Pergaminiotissa. Exploring the iconography and style of the paintings of the initial events of the life of the Virgin Mary that are found on the bema (sanctuary) walls, Carr points out the close connection of the painting program to that at the Miroz Monastery in Pskov (Russia) stating "the imagery of the Virgin's early life seen at the Pergaminiotissa and Pskov would seem to take on a new significance, not as an eccentric...tradition parallel to that of Constantinople, but as representative of Byzantium itself in the first third of the twelfth century" (176). Carr sets the Pergaminiotissa program into the context of other painted programs on Cyprus such as the Holy Trinity Chapel at Koutsovendis, the Panagia Phorbiotissa at Asinou, and the church at Trikomo (181). This deeply informative and well-illustrated study of the painting program of the Pergaminiotissa introduces us to a refined and original painter and a new category of patronage for the Komnenian narrative, the higher clergy (182).

Tassos Papacostas offers an unusual conclusion to this volume with a discussion of saints' cults largely based on textual evidence. In "Decoding Cyprus from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance: Discordant Visions, Saints and Sacred Topography," Papacostas traces their expressions in text, relics, and pilgrimage sites as well as the fate of the cult of saints from Cyprus and on Cyprus. He explores Sts. Hilarion, Tycon, and John the Almsgiver, as well as lesser-known figures like Limbania and Afra. Framing the study of these saints through the duality of "inside" and "outside," Papacostas shows us the often contrasting perspectives from those living (and writing) within Cyprus, and those outside of Cyprus. This chapter offers a look back at the period for which most of the volume is concerned, but more importantly it leaves us with a reminder of the many perspectives that will always make Cyprus a rich site for study.

This volume offers an enormous amount of new research, presents new questions, and leaves much room for further research on the subject of Byzantine Cyprus. While the first half of the chapters are primarily archaeological in approach and the second half are strongly art historical in scope, many of the chapters find intersections between these and other disciplines making it a compendium of interest to a wide range of scholars. Stewart's preface and many individual authors point out the difficulty of studying this period due to the war and division of the island in 1974, and subsequent inaccessibility of sites in the north. Yet, many of the scholars here present topics that help fill some of these gaps. The inclusion of this new material expands our understanding of Byzantine history and as Annemarie Weyl Carr points out, "it shows the importance, in constructing the history of Byzantine Cyprus, of stitching across the rent of 1974" (182). The compilation of this volume, which so successfully addresses an immensely complex historical period, is especially important for its inclusion of so many scholarly perspectives.

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