Intensive Survey of the Strymon Delta in the Eastern Macedonia

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The aspects of the Late Roman and Byzantine  East that have most interested me – the evolution (economic, social, and more broadly institutional) of communities, and the histories of land-use , production, redistribution, and exchange – explain my practical commitment to, and involvements in many forms of archaeological enquiry: intensive survey, extensive survey, excavation, and collections-based study.

But whatever the form of the project (e.g., two of those forms of enquiry in combination), it is always closely engaged with historical enquiries and the problems that written sources pose. Both my intensive surveys in the estuary of the Strymon in Eastern Macedonia , and Thisve Basin in Western Boeotia, confront the archaeologies of settlement, landscape, and material culture with the full range of Byzantine sources, but also Ancient, Ottoman, and medieval and post-medieval western sources, with the aim of exploring the local and regional configurations of many of the themes evoked above.

The Macedonian survey (co-directed with Richard Catling, Oxford University and the 17th Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities) attempted a high-resolution and longue durée focus upon themes in my unpublished doctoral thesis The interaction of secular public institutions and provincial communities in the political and economic spheres in Late Antique Aegean Macedonia, and is being published in a series of articles, the most recent being a linked group of three by myself and two  colleagues in environmental history in: J.Bintliff and H.Stöger (ed.), Medieval and Post-Medieval Greece. The Corfu Papers (B.A.R. International Series 2023), 2009. My current survey (2004-8; 2011) is recording the complex and rich monumental remains of a pre-Classical-to-Late Roman urban settlement (Thisve) and its Byzantine and Crusader successor (Kastorion), whose lost medieval identity I have traced in 10th-15th-c sources, Byzantine, Western and Ottoman. I am doing this in the context of

(1) an overlooked distribution of rural Byzantine fortifications;

(2) the intensive artefactual  survey by American colleagues Professors Timothy Gregory and Bill Caraher of Thisve/Kastorion’s  naturally defined hinterland

(3) this hinterland (the Thisve Basin)’s hydrography and geomorphology and the archaeology of water- and soil-management (being studied with Dr Tim Van der Schriek (University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne);

(4) the wider regional context (Post-Roman), which I have already researched, first as a British Academy Research Associate, then with other funding, for the Boeotian Archaeological and Geological Expedition (directed by Professors Anthony Snodgrass and John Bintliff). Relevant aspects of the regional context I published in 1996 and 2006. Preliminary reports on the current survey appear in the Bulletin of British Byzantine Studies 33 (2007, pp.35-39), 34 (2008, pp.33-40), and 35 (2009, pp.37-46), and in the annual Khronika of Arkhaiologikon Deltion for 2005-2008 (all in press).

Both surveys, or combinations of surveys, link the analysis of monumental topography and architecture (ancient, medieval, and post-medieval), artefacts from the surface, sedimentology, palynology, and botany, to interpret the trajectories and functions of important provincial Late Roman and/or Byzantine settlements within a local multi-period framework, within the framework of the study of the Late Roman and Byzantine occupation of the landscape,  necessarily too within the context of the evolution of the dynamic Mediterranean environments of the Holocene (of which both projects offer instructive case studies), and of course in relation to historical conditions in their provincial configurations. The post-Roman aspects of these require basic research in themselves, with two of which I engage.

Firstly, Post-Roman land-use, as a neglected and ill-understood parameter of the second and third of those  aspects of context, requires new studies of its own at the trans-regional level, which I undertake. I am publishing a series of studies of the vast incultum of the post-Roman East: a framing paper in 2007 (“Rural producers and markets: aspects of the archaeological and historical problem”); “The control and exploitation and control of the arboreal resources of the Late Byzantine and Frankish Aegean region”, L’uomo e la foresta, secc.xiii – xviii (Prato, 1996), pp.479-497, “The exploitation and control of woodland and scrubland in the Byzantine world”, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 16 (1992), pp.235-299, and (in progress) “The definition and occupation of landscapes by Byzantine institutions, communities, and elites (European provinces)” for the Table Ronde Archaeology of Byzantine landscapes at the XXII. International Congress of Byzantine Studies (Sofia, 2011), and “The control and exploitation of rivers, lakes and wetlands in the Middle and Late Byzantine worlds” for the conference Man and his environment in the Byzantine Empire (Mainz, 2011).

Secondly, studies and debates about settlement in the Late Roman and Byzantine East have been impeded by historians’ limited internalisation of the gains (including methodological ones) of intensive and extensive surveys, and by archaeologists’ often limited engagement with Byzantine history. I have attempted in a series of articles, most recently in 2004 and 2005, essentially on the basis of the long-term Extensive Surveys of the Greek and some Balkan states’ archaeological services, to challenge some of the prevalent preconceptions, terminology, and generalising models, concerning the fate of “the city” in the 3rd-to-9th   cc. I develop these themes in the final report on the survey of Thisve and Kastorion and their loci of maritime traffic.

While much of my research is therefore about the reconstruction and interpretation of the archaeologies of settlement, landscape, and land-use in their Late Roman and Byzantine configurations, I have been involved in major British- and American-led urban excavations (Paphos, Kourion, Corinth, and Knossos so as to familiarise myself with Late Roman and Byzantine material culture, aspects of which I have already published or am in the process of publishing, namely inscribed lead seals (at all the sites) and minor objects (from Paphos and Kourion ). I also publish inscribed seals as collections (in particular that of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham). I like to re-focus in these ways on the functionality of individual buildings or building complexes ( e.g the Crusader castle of Saranta Kolones, Paphos : excavations directed by professor John Rosser), and in the case of inscribed seals (technically sealings) upon specific provincial elites (the Barber Institute’s collection also being mainly from  the Byzantine city of Trebizond). The seals are the residues of archives and as such are a remarkable resource for the study of the 6th-to-12/13th centuries. Corinth’s residues of both legible and illegible seals (several hundred altogether) can illuminate the formation of provincial and local elites, wider currents of urban social change, administrative history, and issues in economic history. I therefore use commentaries on my editions (e.g. for Corinth Excavations, forthcoming)to engage with such issues, and use the wider sigillographic “corpus” to engage particularly with issues in Byzantine economic history, e.g. in “The Kommerkiarios, the Apotheke, the Dromos, the Vardarios, and The West”, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 17, 1993, pp.3-24; and “Changing conditions of trade and redistribution in the Eastern Mediterranean: the Greek-Aegean space”, 4th International Conference on Late Roman Coarse Ware, Cooking Ware and Amphorae in the Mediterranean (forthcoming).