The ruins of the Cistercian monastery of Zaraka, located near the village of Stymfalia in the northern Peloponnese, have long been recognized as critical to the study of Western monasticism in Frankish Greece, a region where Latin Crusaders established political hegemony in the wake of the Fourth Crusade. Aside from the impressive standing remains, the church is well-represented by its "Green Man," a beautifully-carved sculpted boss that has been featured in exhibitions in Washington, DC and Los Angeles. The long-awaited publication of the Zaraka excavations expands our understanding of how this Cistercian monastery was constructed in circa1225 and operated, but also provides information about how the site functioned after its abandonment in circa 1261-63. The publication of this material is timely. Recent archaeological excavations, including the investigation of the church of St. Francis at Glarentza (modern Kyllini), the "Frankish" complex at Corinth, and the settlement of Ayios Vasilios, have contributed valuable new information to the study of this period, as have a large number of field and architectural surveys. Placed within the context of these other investigations, we begin to have a clearer view of how this abbey formed part of a broader network of sites and settlements.
The material included in this volume is the result of excavations carried out in five seasons, beginning in 1993. Because of permit restrictions and issues of land ownership, excavation focused primarily on the church, the area to its south, and the western gatehouse. Those hoping to gain an understanding of the full plan of the monastery will be disappointed, but several of the essays provide tantalizing information about aspects of the day-to-day lives of the monks. The volume contains two types of essays--broad overviews of historical and architectural topics and narrower studies of excavated materials. The scholars involved in the publication, Western medievalists and those focusing on Greece and the broader Mediterranean, approach the material from their own disciplinary perspectives.
The volume opens with an overview of the site authored by Sheila Campbell, the director of the excavation. Following a review of the sparse records about the monastery in written sources, Campbell analyzes discrete sections of the complex: the two-story gatehouse (where the discovery of a deer antler suggests that the surrounding area was heavily wooded in the 13th century), the church, a partially-built cloister, a putative refectory, and other subsidiary rooms. The remaining foundations of a 16th-century funerary chapel at the southeast corner of the church, evidence of a later phase in the site's history, is linked to many of the skeletons found in the course of excavation. The author speculates about other structures that may still lie within the unexcavated properties surrounding the church. Drawing from her knowledge of Cistercian monasticism, Campbell reconstructs the population of the thirteenth century--an abbot, porter, cellarer, and others who formed a community of approximately forty members, based on the size of the church. The essay concludes with a short catalogue of small finds including what the author tentatively identifies as a bell fragment. A short catalogue of the architectural sculpture by the same author appears later in the volume. The three essays that follow place the abbey within a broader historical and architectural context.
Following her careful review of primary sources, Kathryn E. Salzer proposes that the abbey's mother house was Morimond, a now ruined abbey located on the border of Champagne and Burgundy. As she suggests, connections to this region are manifested in the building, including in the design of the stone windows. Anthony Masinton's essay, "The Architecture of Zaraka Abbey," provides a thorough examination of the structure and its sculpted decoration, highlighting the building's unusual aspects and relating it to other constructions in Crusader kingdoms across the Mediterranean. In her essay, "Reconstructing the Abbey Library of Zaraka," Diane Reilly, considering the contents of Cistercian libraries, speculates about the types of manuscripts that might have been held at Zaraka.
The second part of the book addresses the excavation finds: pottery, coins, glass, faunal and human remains. These chapters provide some of the most interesting information in the volume. Camilla MacKay's study of the pottery adds material to the growing corpus of 13th-century ceramic wares in the Peloponnese and also presents ceramics connected with the later uses of the site. Recalling that excavation was limited in scope, the finds associated with the monks are unsurprisingly few. Their modest, glazed bowls were likely produced locally. This picture changes following the abbey's abandonment. The fourteenth- and fifteenth-century ceramics include Italian imports and hand-made cooking vessels, finds that the author compares with material recovered from excavations at Ayios Elias above the Asea Valley in Arcadia.
Unlike the ceramic evidence, the thirteenth-century glass, ably analyzed by Susan Young, includes Western or Western-style vessels such as prunted beakers and mold-blown beakers with ribs, both types of vessels also found at Corinth. Young draws comparison between the prunted beakers from Zaraka and an example purportedly recovered at Daphne, a Byzantine monastery used by the Cistercian Order from 1209. Unusual among the finds is the rim fragment of a glass plate. The excavation also revealed a number of fragments of window panes. This chapter presents one of the first full analyses of glass finds from a Frankish site in Greece, and is of singular importance in initiating the study of such materials.
Julian Baker's presentation of the excavated coins establishes a clear chronological divide between those associated with the monastery and those linked to later use of the site. The thirteenth-century coins corroborate the timeline proposed by other authors for the abbey's erection and abandonment. In the fourteenth century, the re-use of the site is witnessed by thirteen coins, nine of them with the name of the Venetian Doge Andrea Contarini (1368-82). This assemblage of coins, according to Baker, may reflect the site's hasty abandonment, perhaps in response to a Navarrese raid in 1381, or sometime thereafter. Little information can be gleaned from the numismatic evidence about the site's third phase.
Deborah Ruscillo demonstrates the value of studying faunal remains, which not only provide intriguing information about the diet of the Zaraka monks, but also offer a glimpse into the ecology of the valley of Stymphalos in the twelfth to sixteenth century. The most intriguing evidence concerns the practice of falconry; excavators recovered the remains of goshawks and sparrowhawks in 13th-century contexts, as well as the bones of their prey. As the author observes, "Zaraka is the first medieval site in Greece to show evidence of hawking" (182).
The essay by Sandra Garvie-Lok, assessing the human remains primarily from the late 16th-century phase of the site, offers detailed analysis of the remains of nine individuals, three of them adults. In addition to offering information about health and longevity, the essay informs the reader about diet, which can be read together with the analysis of the faunal remains, particularly in considering the consumption of seafood in the site's later phases. Stress on the bones is consistent with the rural environment, where the adults and adolescent would have been engaged in heavy agricultural and domestic labor.
Although it is placed between the essays on skeletal remains, the chapter by Kostis Kourelis forms an excellent conclusion to the volume, placing the Zaraka finds within the archaeology of settlements in the surrounding region and raising important questions for the study of this and other sites in the region. Importantly, Kourelis situates the monastery on the Mesogeia, the Inland Road that crossed from Corinth into Arcadia. Within this context, the decision to site an abbey in the Stymphalos Valley is linked to shifts in settlement patterns and a realignment of power. Part of this assertion of power was the re-use of ancient sites, which demonstrates a proclivity "towards a landscape filled with historical authority" (197). Missing in the analysis of the site, Kourelis reminds the reader, is the identification of proximate settlements with which the abbey may have been linked.
Minor problems with the volume could have been solved by careful copy editing--the missing end of a sentence on p. 95 or the use of a single photo to illustrate two different knife handles on p. 33. Some essays, undoubtedly written years before the volume's publication in 2018, are missing recent bibliography. A slight re-ordering of several essays would have strengthened the volume--the studies of ceramics and glass and the chapters on faunal and human remains should have been grouped together. Finally, an index to the volume would have helped readers connect common themes across the essays. These are minor quibbles, however. The strength of this volume rests in the clear presentation of material that strengthens the reader's understanding of this Cistercian abbey and its community. Careful attention to the later phases of the site's habitation--absent from the book's title--also provides vital information about this region in the late and post-Byzantine periods, re-populating the Stymphalos Valley with those whose stories have, until now, been lost.