Corinth’s Byzantine Countryside

The distribution of Byzantine sites in Corinth’s immediate hinterland is poorly known. No Byzantine monuments exist in the Isthmia valley immediately to the east of the City of Corinth in contrast to the numerous Byzantine churches discovered during the early phases of excavation of the city center or the cluster of standing churches around the village of Sophiko to the south. The absence of any standing Byzantine remains might be an accident of preservation. It could also suggest that the immediate hinterland of Corinth had few nucleated settlements like monasteries and villages. It seems possible that Byzantine Corinthians lived in the city of Corinth, the village of Kenchreai, and perhaps a settlement centered on the eastern part of the Hexamilion wall near the long-abandoned Panhellenic sanctuary at Isthmia.

Over the past week or so, I’ve been working on analyzing the distribution of Byzantine pottery discovered during the work of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. In the chronological scheme used by the survey, material from the Byzantine period was divided into two periods: Early Medieval (700-1200) and Late Medieval (1200-1500). In the map below, the red triangles are the Early Medieval artifacts and the green are Late Medieval.

Byzantine Pottery

There are four main areas in the fertile plain east of the city of Corinth that show Early and Late Medieval ceramic material. One area may be associated with a now-destroyed church dedicated to Ag. Paraskevi. In a series of fields disturbed by plowing and recent construction, there is a complex and extensive assemblage of Early and Late Medieval material as well as a significant assemblage of Late Roman material. The assemblage included relatively common glazed finewares from the Early and Middle Byzantine period as well as table wares and utility wares. Some 2 km northwest of the Ay. Paraskevi assemblage, appears another cluster of pottery perhaps associated with ecclesiastical architecture. In a 100 square meter amidst architecture fragments suggesting monumental Christian architecture appear another similar scatter of Byzantine material which featured fineware, kitchen wares, utility vessels from both the Early and Late Medieval periods. As similar small assemblage appears on the steep slopes to the northwest of the Late Roman harbor of Kenchreai. In these units, another 200 square meter area produced a small scatter of Medieval material including finewares and utility wares. Finally, a deeply ploughed field at the base of Mt. Oneion measuring about 350 square meters produced an assembalge of Early Medieval and Late Medieval fine and ultility wares as well as a few sherds from the Venentian and Ottoman periods. Like the other scatters, this assemblage shows both Early and Late Medieval pottery with both table ware and utility wares.

The remarkable thing about these four little clusters of Byzantine pottery is how different the distribution was from period of earlier and later periods.  This is the same map showing Late Roman pottery.

Late Roman

This is a textbook example of a continuous carpet of artifacts and is typical of the Late Roman period throughout Greece. (For some critical comments on this see David Pettegrew’s “The Busy Countryside of Late Roman Corinth,” Hesperia 76 (2007), 743-784 for a PDF go here).

What is also remarkable is how different the distribution is from that of later periods.  The distribution of material from the Ottoman/Venetian period (1500-1800) for example does not overlap entirely with material from the Byzantine period.

OttomanVenPottery

It is only in the Early Modern period (1800-1960) where later material becomes an important component of the Byzantine sites, but this seems to be associated with a general expansion of activity in the Corinthian countryside. (For a more extensive discussion of this see T. E. Gregory, “Contrasting Impressions of Land Use in Early Modern Greece: The Eastern Corinthia and Kythera,” Hesperia Supplement 40 (2007), 173-198.)

Early Modern Pottery

This very preliminary analysis of the Byzantine material from EKAS resonates with recent studies of the Byzantine countryside in the Nemea Valley immediately to the south. (For this see E. Athanassopoulos, “ Landscape Archaeology in the Medieval Countryside: Settlement and Abandonment in the Nemea Region,” IJHA 14 (2010), 255-270.) Athanassopoulos suggested that the 12th and 13th century landscape of the Nemea valley clustered on arable land or on the lower slopes of valley sides (258). Moreover, the sites tended to represent small and medium scale agricultural production (261).

It is also important to realize that my brief analysis here is preliminary. Sanders has established the basic unreliability of most existing typologies and chronologies for pottery of this period as well as difficulties identifying artifacts datable to the Medieval period in general. A the same time, it is nevertheless striking that such pronounced clusters of Byzantine material would appear in the Corinthian landscape. More importantly, these clusters appear largely independent of the continuous carpet of Late Roman finds and the clusters of post-Byzantine material published by Gregory and, earlier, analyzed by Caraher.

Cross-Posted to New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World.

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Categories: Byzantine, EKAS (Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey)

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