More on Sicyonia, fortifications, and Late Antiquity

I’ve continued to work my way through Y. Lolos’s massive tome, Land of Sicyon. Hesperia Supplement 39 (Princeton: American School of Classical Studies, 2011) this weekend while waiting for the rain delayed Daytona 500.  I posted the first part of my review a couple of weeks ago and, so, I suppose this is part two.

There are three areas, in particular, which attracted my interest:

1. Rural Fortifications. As I noted two weeks ago, there remains significant work to be done on the rural fortifications of the Peloponnesus, and Lolos’s book does its part by documenting a significant number of undocumented or poorly documented fortified sites in the countryside. Of particular interest to me were the irregular fortifications at Kokkinovrachos (pp. 234-240)and the round towers at Profetes Elias hill (p. 231) and at Tsakouthi (pp.  240-244) which my colleagues and I reference in a 2010 Hesperia article. While the Kokkinovrachos fortification is much larger than our fortification overlooking Vayia in the southwestern Corinthia, they share the same irregular masonry and both combine a fortification with a free standing tower. Lolos argues that this fortification occupied a height with good views of the crucial intersection between Stymphalos, Phlious, Acrocorinth, and the Sikyonian sites of Titane and Thyamia. Maintaining a substantial stronghold on this hill allowed Sikyonian forces to command several significant routes into the city.

The round tower at Tsakouthi resembled closely the round tower at Lychnari in the Corinthia. Lolos suggested that the upper course of the tower at Tsakouthi were likely mud brick, and this construction, in fact, combined with the towers round shape would have made the tower less vulnerable to artillery blows from forces passing on the nearby road. Our tower at Lychnari may have also had a mud brick superstructure, although there is a sufficient stone in the area to allow for a stone tower of significant height. The smaller and poorly preserved round tower at Profetes Elias may be a good parallel for the smaller tower at the site of Ano Vayia.

The explanations for building a round tower as opposed to a square or orthogonal tower has never entirely satisfied me. It seems to me that a round tower would entail a significant increase in technical difficulty as each block had to be cut or at least trimmed to match either the interior or exterior diameter of the tower. (Blocks in square towers could fit in numerous different positions.)  While it seems likely the round towers were less susceptible to damage by artillery which would only ever inflict a glancing blow, the towers at Lychnari and Ano Vayia (and at Lolos’s Profetes Elias) do not seem close enough to major roads to make the additional work necessary. Moreover, there are numerous towers very close to major roads which are square or rectangular in plan.

Finally, Lolos contributes little the on going discussions of rural fortifications and land use. In fact, Lolos seems to be content suggesting that the fortification of Sikyonia primary served to allow the city to communicate with and deploy forces to across its hinterland. This may be the case, but for fortifications like the round tower at Tsakouthi, it seems like we should at least entertain the possibility that the tower was part of a agricultural complex serving the valley its overlooks.

2. The Late Roman Boom. Like most region in the Eastern Mediterranean, Lolos’s Sikyonia saw a boom in settlement and sits during the Late Roman times. The number of new sites is truly remarkable with over 60 site with Late Roman material and only 23 having material from immediately earlier periods.  While the extensive nature of Lolos’s survey which did not sample his study area in a systematic way, makes it difficult to determine whether this pattern he identified would survive a more rigorous sampling regimen, it is nevertheless consistent with findings published from the Eastern Corinthia, for example, which documented the Late Roman period as time of particular prosperity.

Of particular note is Lolos’s documenting of several previous overlooked or under documented Early Christian churches including a “Early Byzantine Church” at the site of Litharia you Rakka of Poulitsa. The rather small number of Early Byzantine churches in the Peloponnesus alone makes this structure worth additional consideration. The presence of rural church apparently situated apart from significant settlements appears increasingly to be a feature of Late Roman Greece. Lolos’s argument that the site of Klisi-Boukoura of Stylia might be a monastic foundation based on its size of over 3,000 sq. m. This would be rather unprecedented in the Peloponnesus in Late Antiquity, but does show how many significant interpretative gaps exist in our knowledge of the Early Christian landscape. Recent work in the Eastern Corinthia has shown that even in the hinterland of a major city, rural churches remain undocumented.

3. Diachronic Survey. Finally, one of the most interesting parts of Lolos’s book is his commitment to treating the history of Sikyonia in a diachronic fashion. He not only includes discussions of the Venetian period census record, but also of Medieval, Ottoman, and Early Modern period sites. This includes a brief comment on zevgolateio which are groups of kalyvia, or modest, seasonal dwellings, that form a small hamlet (p. 365). From his short remarks, it would seem that the settlement at Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia which my colleagues and I are now bringing to publication, represents a zevgolateio. The illustrations that he provides of the interior of a season dwelling coincide closely with those found in Lakka Skoutara, which is unsurprising, of course, considering the geographic proximity and similar ethnic make up of the populations.

I have a bit more to read and process from this rich, closely edited, and significant work, and I expect that I’ll provide some final words on the book in the coming weeks.

Crossposted to The New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World.

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Categories: Books and Articles, Late Antiquity, Periods, Modern, Periods, Ottoman, Sites, Sikyon

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