Saturday, August 30, 2008

Democratic Classicism

The discussion that generated around the architectural aesthetics of the Democratic National Convention, especially the set designs at Invesco Field, give me great confidence in my job as archaeologist and architectural historian. Even the most learned members of American society are terribly clueless about ancient Greece and classical architecture. The Doric backdrop, which framed Barak Obama's acceptance speech, was distinctive enough to warrant all kinds of derogatory commentary, called the Temple of Obama, or the Democratic Mount Olympus. In his New York Times opinion column today, Frank Rich noted that the election "isn't about the Athenian columns."Then he wrote, "Barack Obama descended in classic deus ex machina fashion — yes, that’s Greek too — to set the record straight." [Deus ex machina is actually Latin]. Oh dear. Is classical culture such a populist cliche that one can say anything one wants about it?

I found the Doric set design at Invesco Field kind of brilliant. Sure, every political rally can have Nurenberg associations, but the historical cues alluded here were rather interesting. The first intended reference is naturally the White House, whose Georgian design loosely refers to the classical past, setting Obama inside the language of the White House. The classical vocabulary, at the same time, has elitist and exclusive white cultural associations (think antebellum southern plantations, etc.) commonly exploited by the Republican Party.. Philip Kennicott,
culture critic for the Washington Post, got it right in "Obama amid the Pillars of an Ancient Culture" (August 30, 2008), p. C1. The classical vocabulary had been fully co-opted by the Right. The George W. Bush government was most classicist than any, considering the formative influence so many of its members received under Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago. I wish that Departments of Classics in the U.S. would acknowledge this intellectual turn of events more openly and at least comment on this current alignment.

Returning to the set design, the strongest visual referent was naturally the Lincoln Memorial, where on August 28, 1963, Marin Luther King delivered the speech whose anniversary was celebrated during the convention. It was also here that Marian Anderson, the first celebrated African American classical singer, sang in 1939. The Lincoln Memorial represents one of the last gasps of neoclassicism, designed by Henry Bacon in 1922. Frank Lloyd Wright called it the "most ridiculous, most asinine miscarriage of building material that ever happened." Lincoln, the son of the Midwestern prairies was, for Wright, "the Greek antithesis." The Lincoln Memorial is an amazing monument because of its complicated history. We take it for granted today as status quo, but it was quite a controversial monument. For the most thorough coverage of the building, see Christopher A. Thomas,
The Lincoln Memorial and American Life (Princeton, 2002) . For something more immediate, listen to one of my favorite episodes of Studio 360, American Icon series (February 16, 2008). I plan to use this podcast for my art history survey; it's great teaching material.

The Lincoln Memorial has two un-Greek peculiarities that were picked up in the Democratic set. It has a dramatic podium that set it off as an object. The stairs were picked up in Denver as the termination of the walkway from which the speakers delivered their oratory. The Lincoln Memorial has no door. It gapes open in the middle of the facade. This was picked up nicely in the video displays that filled the symmetrical temple fronts.

It would be ridiculous to talk about historicism in 21st-century architecture and dismiss the Postmodern movement. Regardless of its lofty references to multiple pasts, the Denver podium was a postmodern pastiche. Frankly, it was nothing more than a VERY reserved version of Charles W. Moore's Piazza d'Italia in New Orleans (1976-79). The podium itself reflects a trend of truncated pyramidal forms (e.g. Robert Stern's Comcast Center skyscraper in Philadelphia) that fill today's IKEA showroom. Ultimately, the funkiness of this geometry derives from the Italian post modernism, Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group from the 1980s.

Although I was fascinated by the public attention on Obama's so-called Temple, and the smartness of its referents, I admit that I didn't love it. I suppose political conventions have to be conventional and not the place for innovative risks; that being said, the musical choices were much more daring than the architecture. The whole thing was very 1980s, a decade when postmodernism made even the most puritanical neoclassicism a viable option. Architects like Allan Greenberg thought that this kind of vocabulary was the only antidote to modernism. They dominated some architecture schools (Notre Dame most notably) and read American Vitruvius religiously. Books like George Hersey's The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture, Speculation on Ornament from Vitruvius to Venturi (Cambridge, Mass., 1988) and John Onians' Bearers of Meaning. The Classical Orders in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Princeton, 1988) were fashionable. Watching Robert Stern dominate commission throughout Philadelphia (Comcast, McNeil Center for American Studies, 10 Rittenhouse Square), I feel trapped in a 1988 time warp. Stern will also be designing three
new colleges at Yale University, where he is Dean of Architecture.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Teaching Thursday

As far as blogging is concerned, everyone should know by now that I am a copy-cat. And so I will proceed to copy the TEACHING THURSDAY feature in my favorite blog, The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. Connecticut College begins classes this Thursday and I will be teaching two sections of the Art History 121, Survey of the History of Art I. I've taught this class at Clemson numerous times as a large lecture (200 students) or seminar (19 students). At Connecticut College, I'm looking forward to the liberal arts setting, the smaller lecture class (45 students), the focus on pedagogy and the expectations of writing and analysis. I'm not sure that I"ll be able to fill in the shoes of Professor Joseph D. Alchermes, who regularly teaches this course but is on leave.

Even before the first day of class, focus on teaching became evident to me at Connecticut College, when I was invited to attend a syllabus workshop at the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning, directed by Michael Reder. The seminar lasted for 3 hours and there was no dull moment. Most academics would scoff at a workshop on such a simple task, which is perhaps part of the problem. My choice to attend the seminar has a lot to do with reading Derek Bok's
Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (Princeton, 2006). Bok, president emeritus at Harvard, spells out the problems of higher education, including the disjunction between what professors think their function is and what they actually achieve. And most faculty members are so self assured that they would never ask for advice on teaching (a practice which, after all, nobody taught them at graduate school). Professors spend incredible energy substantiating their scholarly research, but rarely bother to document the effects of their teaching, or consult research on teaching effectiveness. Bok's book is interesting in attributing fair blame across the board (high schools, tests, tenure process, competition). What is difficult to deny is that today's students are shockingly lacking basic skills of reading comprehension, writing, critical thinking. Caught in the admissions race, colleges don't always recognize this deficit. From my experiences this holds across the board even in the most elite institutions. One of my favorite articles is Ross Douthat's "The Truth about Harvard," Atlantic Monthly (March 2005), pp. 95-99. (I have this article in PDF if anyone wants it)

I am in no way an expert on education theory and current research. I read the
Chronicle of Higher Education only once in a while, and I'm a sucker for inspirational essays on teaching. During one of my usual Saturday night escapes at Greenville's Barnes and Noble a couple of years ago, I chanced on Bell Hooks' Teaching to Transgress: Education as a Practice of Freedom (New York, 1994). It completely changed my attitude about information based learning; at least it lead me to redesign my art history survey class.

I won't bore you with the details of what I learned in the syllabus workshop, but I will tell you about a book that was given to us, McKeachie's
Teaching Tips (12th. ed. 2006). I'm reading it now -- procrastinating from actually completing my syllabus -- learning all about what works on the first day of class. In addition to some great feedback on my own syllabus, the workshop left me with incredible respect for Connecticut College. The workshop was attended by senior faculty (including my wonderful new chair) and mostly new visiting instructors. I don't know of too many institutions that invest these resources on their part time faculty. What is more amazing is that one of the workshop practitioners is a Connecticut state senator, Conn College alumni teaching a course in government. When I told my wife, she amusingly said, "I wonder if Tony Blair is participating in a syllabus workshop at Yale," where he, too, is adjuncting this semester (clearly at a different pay scale). Somehow, I doubt it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Spolia in the Garden: Fernwood Cemetery

This is a quick posting inspired by Bill Caraher's "Spolia in the Garden" (The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, August 13, 2008). During my sporadic visits to Philadelphia, I've been trying to care for the dead, i.e. the traditional Greek duty of keeping parental tombs well tended. See, for instance, earlier posting Buried in Bottles. Part of this upkeep involves caring for flowers and burning the flame. The Greek section of Fernwood Cemetery is caught between two monument traditions. It's a predominantly Protestant cemetery, where the tombs receive no adornment beyond the tombstone and endless grass. The Greek section is a lot more monumental with a hodge-podge of installations trying to replicate Mediterranean customs, which involve demarcating the whole length of the tomb and reassuring that nobody ever walks over the burial.

For my mother's plot, I decided to go half way and leave most of the area covered with grass (hence regularly mowed) but demarcate a small flower plot with one perennial (mums) , one annual (chrysanthemum) and one plastic flower (respecting my mother's friends who brought it; old Greek-American ladies argue that plastic flowers are far superior to natural ones--they have a point). In order to protect the little garden from the wrath of the lawnmower, however, I built a tiny submerged brick enclosure, just like the one that Bill and Susan Caraher made in their garden at Grand Forks. Rather than buying new industrial bricks from Home Depot, I, too, recycled. I salvaged seven 19th-c. bricks from the back of my house.

Note the candle holder in the picture. The good upkeep of the plot is done just as much for the living visitors as for the dead. Americans go nuts over their lawns at home; Greeks go nuts over their cemeteries. A well-kept tomb (i.e. by a family that cares) has a lit candle. The candle holder in the photo is a gift from our friends, the Zogas family. The candles are basically Latin American votives, which I buy from my local Latin American grocery store. Celina prefers the ones covered with gaudy Catholic iconography (sacred hearts, etc.), I prefer the simple red. Not to be macabre, or anything like that, but burial plots come in pairs, an upstairs and a downstairs. If for whatever reason, I happen to pass away unexpectedly, I find it comforting that I might be resting here, too. But I'll stop here. On grass, Elizabeth Kolbert's article is a MUST, "Turf War," New Yorker (July 21, 2008).

Byzantine Children Burials: Feedback

A main reason that I keep a blog is to communicate and exchange ideas with friends and colleagues. After my last posting "Byzantine Children Burial," I received an email from Amy Papalexandrou that is full of new information, so I've decided to start a new practice of posting email responses. So here is Amy's interesting follow-up:

On Sun, Aug 24, 2008 at 10:30 AM, Amy Papalexandrou <> wrote:

"Kosti!!! I thought I would mention in the context of burials that we are scratching away at the mass of burials at Polis - many of which are children, and that our bioarchaeologist (Brenda Baker, of ASU) is a specialist on child burials. She hasn't had time yet to really attack this particular material but we are lucky to have her on board now with the Byzantinists and she will have much to add to future discussions of this little subset of material. At Polis we have a cemetery (no children in the narthex) to the east of our basilicas that may have been used exclusively for child burials for a time - either that or the inhabitants just didn't dig as deeply for these
graves. At any rate they are mostly together in this case.

Brenda and I (together with an anthro grad student) have done a little article on a single burial at Polis (not a child, though) in which we try to expand the way we archaeologists/Byzantinists have typically looked at the human remains. My goal is to eventually publish the
burials at Cyprus in a somewhat similar way. We had a poster at the APA in Philly in 2007: "Sew Long: A Seamstress Buried at Medieval Polis, Cyprus" and have done a little article: 'The Osteobiography of a Woman from Medieval Polis, Cyprus,' to be published in The Bioarchaeology of Individuals, eds. Ann Stodder and Ann Palkovich (University Press of Florida).

As for the stele, Nassos and I are working on this. I've got good visual material dating from before the fire, of course (including a scale drawing that looks a lot like yours!). We gave a paper on the subject at the AIA in Chicago way back in 1997: "Ancient Images—Byzantine Responses: A Hellenistic Stele from Orchomenos and Its Afterlife" and have since tucked it away on the back burner."

In addition to Amy's response, I also learned that the Greek Archaeological Service has excavated a burial in the narthex of Skripou. And Bill Caraher mentioned an an infant burial at Pyla-Koutsopetria. How could I forget to mention Joe Rife's amazing work on the cemeteries at Isthmia (forthcoming
Isthmia IX)? For a progress report on Joe's field project, see "Multidisciplinary Excavation Launches at Kenchrai,"also in Akoue 57/8 (2007), p. 13.

Camilla MacKay also sent me the following note (email,
Wed, Aug 27, 2008 at 10:30 PM)

"Kostis, I liked your post on the burials. Not even close to Byzantine, but when I was in the Agora this summer, Maria Liston was working on the baby well--6th c. maybe? I've forgotten--excavated years ago, with hundreds of newborn to infant baby skeletons and also puppy skeletons, that she thinks represents a couple of midwives over several years. Susan Rotroff is doing the pottery. It will be very interesting..."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Byzantine Children Burials

When I visited the Byzantine church at Skripou, near Orchomenos on May 27, 1999, I noted in my sketchbook (left) a classical relief immured in the east wall of the narthex, on the south pier, as the viewer moves from narthex into naos. The relief depicts three figures and a child reaching up from below to touch the primary figure, the woman on the right (the relief is worn and hard to decipher). The scene depicts a funerary banquet, and the presence of a child further suggests that the main figure died at childbirth; on the iconography of childbirth funerary scene in ancient Greece, see Celina Gray (yes, my wife) “Confronting the Other: Childbirth, Aging, and Death on an Attic Gravestone at Harvard,” with Andrew Stewart, in Not the Classical Ideal: Athens and the Construction of the Other in Greek Art, ed. Beth Cohen (Leiden, 2000), pp. 248-274. The stele was obviously taken from next door, the ancient cemetery of Orchomenos, and placed in the church; its new setting adds a new interpretive spin on the figures, a reading that must be squared away with the functions of a narthex.

I haven’t thought about this relief for a while and I really ought to inquire further with Amy Papalexandrou, the expert on both Skripou and Byzantine spolia; see, Amy Cassens Papalexandrou, “The Church of the Virgin of Skripou: Architecture, Sculpture and Inscriptions in Ninth Century Byzantium (Diss., Princeton University, 1998). I was reminded of this relief in connection to children and their burials in peculiar places after reading two excavation announcements in Ákoue, the Newsletter of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). Both reports deal with some aspect of Byzantine child burial, a subject that has hardly received any scholarly attention, since careful excavations are so rare. Ákoue has a small readership outside of classicists; since final archaeological publications take so long to appear in press (because even academic publishers has given up on archaeology), the two reports are of critical importance.

John McK. Camp II, “2006 Agora Excavations Break New Ground,” Ákoue 57/8 (2007), pp. 5, 8, includes the work in Section BH supervised by Ann McCabe and assisted by Matt Baumann. Camp's final report appeared in "Excavations at the Athenian Agora 2002-2007," Hesperia 76, pp. 627-663. McCabe, the long standing Byzantine specialist of the Agora, continued to excavate the Agora's booming Byzantine neighborhood. Thanks to the foundations of modern buildings, only the lowest courses and foundations of the Byzantine houses survive. Typically, the houses contain subterranean storage pythoi with openings level with the original floors. In 2006, work expanded under the modern buildings at St. Philip’s and Hasting Streets. In the corner of one Byzantine room, McCabe excavated a coarse-ware cooking vessel originally buried under the house floor. The pot contained the remains of a 32-week-old fetus. A similar burial was found in earlier seasons, suggesting that this was a common practice in Middle Byzantine Athens. In the Hesperia report, Camp explores the rationale for domestic burial. Although the ban against urban burial was lifted by Emperor Leo, it's possible that a taboo may have still existed. The foetus may have been buried here secretly to avoid social stigma. These are all good hypotheses and require further exploration.

The material dates to ca. 1000 CE. Fetus remains are so fragile that it’s most likely that many such burials exist throughout Greece but have not been carefully noted. Baby burials in amphoras are common in ancient sites. In 1999, I was working in a trench next to Deb Brown-Stewart, while she carefully excavated a Late Roman amphora burial at the Panayia Field in Corinth. The Corinth burial was not in a domestic context. The Byzantine practice of burying fetuses and infants within the family’s home is quite noteworthy. Another amazing project is the Astypalaia Bioarchaeological Project. Simon Hillson (UC London, Institute of Archaeology) has been studying the remains of a children's cemetery. I saw Hillson present this material at an AIA talk at McMaster Univeristy (April 12, 2005)

There has been some work on child cemeteries in antiquity but domestic burial in Byzantium is a topic that needs further attention. I’m currently studying the architecture of a Byzantine house in Chersonesos, Ukraine, where here, too, we have domestic burial. The University of Texas at Austin has excavated 70+ internments in a private chapel within the residential complex. Project director Adam Rabinowitz has presented these finds in public lectures (AIA, Dumbarton Oaks, etc.), but the Chersonesos material is largely unknown to Byzantine scholars. The UT Austin excavations are unique as the most thoroughly excavated domestic complex in the entire Byzantine world.

Now to the next archaeological case study. Paraskevi Tritsaroli was the ASCSA’s Wiener Lab Research Associate for 2006-2007, where she investigated the osteological remains of a cemetery dating to the 10th-11th c. at the site of Xironomi, Boeotia. Tritsaroli reports her finds in “Child Protection after Death in Byzantium: The Bioarchaeological Evidence,” Akoue 57/8 (2007) p. 30. The evidence is fascinating, including common pathologies, lesions, weaning-related infections, nutritional deficiencies (vitamin C and D), scurvy, rickets, etc. Equally interesting is the fact that many children under 4 years of age were buried within the narthex of the church. The shear concentration of children around the church itself is indicative of cultural choices, perhaps spiritual protection before baptism or catechism. Cemeteries exclusive to children is not unusual. I use one example from Leda Costaki’s dissertation, “The intra muros road system of Ancient Athens,” (Universityof Toronto, 2006), p. 437, site IV.20. This cemetery was located on Panepistimiou 31 and it was used exclusively for infant and children burials in the Early Byzantine period (5th/6th c.).

Tritsaroli’s report places the narthex in a different architectural light. Sarah Brooks has studied funerary portraits in the Late Byzantine narthex and associates such elite burials with new liturgical practices. See Sarah Brooks, “Commemoration of the Dead: Late Byzantine Tomb Decoration (Mid-Thirteenth to Mid-Fifteenth Centuries,” (Diss., New York University, 2002). And Princeton University graduate student Nebojsa Stankovic is embarking on a dissertation that focuses on the monastic narthex. Recent archaeological evidence should rescue architectural historians from the deadly formalism of plan typology. If the narthex is the place to bury your infants, it must have been a locus of extraordinary emotional power (trans-generational, familial, mystical). If we return to the child depicted in the spolia of Skripou, we may have struck a golden connection.

Children’s bones are much more difficult to detect in an archaeological context than fully formed adult skeletons, making this young population highly underrepresented. Add to this a general disregard for physical anthropology in most excavations in Greece and Turkey (monumental art architecture trumps all other material culture), and you have a scholarly vacuum. The work of Wiener Lab associates, most notably Sherry Fox (Wiener Lab director) Sandra Garvie-Lok (University of Alberta; (Wiener Lab Fellow, 1996-1997), are changing the scholarly landscape. Most recently, Fox presented the study of 200 burials from Early Christian Cyprus at AIA Meetings in Chicago: Sherry Fox (ASCSA), Ioanna Mataffi (Sheffield), Eleni Anna Prevelorou (Arizona State), Despo Pipilides (Dep’t of Cypriot Antiquities), “The Bioarchaeology of Early Christian Cyprus: The People from St. George’s Hill, Nicosia” (see abstract). More bioarchaeological data from Cyprus was presented by Papalexandrou in the 2007 Byzantine Studies Conference, Toronto: “Contextualizing the Tomb: ‘Bowl Burials’ from Polis, Cyprus."

Sandra Garvie-Lok has been building the most extensive data base of osteological data from Early Christian, Byzantine, Frankish and Ottoman Greece. Among other tools, she employees stable isotope analysis to decipher diet among populations. In a fascinating poster at the AIA Meetings in Philadelphia (2002) Garvie-Lok analyzed the dietary rivalry between Greeks (vegetarians) and Latins (meat eaters) during the Frankish period. I cannot wait to see the full publication of "Loaves and Fishes: A Stable Isotope Reconstruction of Diet in Medieval Greece," (Diss., University of Calgary, 2002) . The great thing about Garvie-Lok's research is that she has been collecting an extensive array of evidence starting from the Canadian excavations in Mytilene and Stymphalis. I'm having the pleasure of collaborating with Garvie-Lok and Demetris Athanasoulis in Glarentza. Here, Athanasoulis has excavated Frankish elite burials in the Cathedral, under lavishly painted arcosoleia. The new finds will see their U.S. debut in May 2009 at the Dumbarton Oaks annual conference devoted to the Frankish Peloponnese. Any mention of osteological analysis in medieval Greece would be incomplete without the mention of Ethne Barnes and Art Rohn, the power-duo of medieval skeletons. Ethne and Art are world authorities in American Southwestern archaeology. See, for example, Ethne's most recent book, Diseases and Human Evolution (Albuquerque, 2007) and Art's extensive publications from Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Ethne and Art were discovered by Charles K. Williams, II ca. 1996 and crossed the Atlantic in order to excavate (Art) and analyze (Ethne) the hundreds of burials that Mr. Williams discovered in a plot next to a monastic structure in Frankish Corinth. As it turned out, the burials were associated with a hospice and were, thus, chock-full of diseases (i.e. interesting bioarchaeological data). The Corinth material has been published in Hesperia and is best summarized by Ethne in, "The Dead Do Tell Stories," in Corinth, the Centenary 1896-1996, ed. C. K Williams II and N. Bookides (Princeton, 2003), pp. 435-443. Ethne and Art proceeded to work on other American projects, such as Mount Lykaion, Petras, and Panakton, see “Panakton: Preliminary Report on a Late Medieval Village,” Hesperia 72 (2003), pp. 189-195. And I must interject here, they are two delightful scholars, a breath of Southwestern air in the Mediterranean pond.

Despite the necessary brevity of reports in Ákoue, Ann McCabe and Paraskevi Tritsaroli have truly added volumes to the study of Byzantine funerary practices archaeologically fixed inside the house and the narthex. At a time when Byzantine art history seems to be floundering, it’s great to see a booming archaeology.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mediterranean Cooking

This September, I'll be teaching a seminar in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Wesleyan University, "Multiculturalism in the Art and Architecture of the Medieval Mediterranean." I'm very excited to return to this topic. Last time I taught this class, at Swarthmore College in Spring 2003, I used cooking to introduce the complexities of the topic. In the absence of a textbook form pan-Mediterranean art, we read excerpts (and recipes) from Clifford Wright's, The Mediterranean Feast: The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean from the Merchants of Venice and the Barbary Corsairs (New York, 1999). Class specimens included cannolis procured from Philadelphia's Italian Market. I truly believe that the cannoli is the best example for medieval interactions in Sicily, the marriage of local shepherds (cheese) and the introduction of sugar by the Arabs. During my time at Monte Polizzo, the Stanford Excavation in western Sicily, I witnessed a further multi-cultural creation: the granita con vodka. Imagine, delicious hand-shaven granita with an American alcoholic spin. The bars of Salemi accommodated this cocktail beautifully.

I am happy to see some new publications on medieval cuisine since 2003, most notably Lilia Zaouli's
Medieval Cuisine in the Islamic World: A Concise History with 174 Recipes (Berkeley, 2007). This is a great addition to English bibliography, the volume had already been available in French and Italian. The preface is written by the Islamic cuisine historian Charles Perry, who among many things has written “The Taste for Layered Bread among the Nomadic Turks and the Central Asian Origins of Baklava,” in Culinary Cultures of the Middle East ed. S. Zubaida and R. Tapper (London 1994), pp. 88-91. Another new book is Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination (New Haven, 2008) by Yale historian Paul Freedman. See also the interview on The Splendid Table (NPR, July 12, 2008). Freedman dispels many of the myths about medieval spices (such as its function of keeping food from spoiling) and connects their allure to religious and social practices.

Mediterranean cooking made a large appearance on a recent Martha Stewart Show devoted to international chefs. Among the guests were my favorite hipster Jamie Oliver, who prepared a Sicilian squid linguine. A couple of years ago, Oliver toured Italy in his VW camper, connected with the people, and collected recipes (mostly from southern Italy) for his book
Jamie's Italy (New York, 2005). Oliver is by far the most relaxed cook and it was great to see him make mistakes on live TV (I hope they weren't staged).

Another guest was the much less known Jim Botsacos, who prepared roasted jumbo prawns. Botsacos is the chef of Molyvos, a well-established Greek restaurant on Seventh Avenue, just below Central Park in New York. I cannot help but associate this restaurant with Eleni Gage (author of
North of Ithaka, New York, 2005) who first took me there in 2006. Jim Botsacos has co-authored The New Greek Cuisine (New York, 2006), which is based on his recipes for Molyvos. I will always associate Molyvos with the fabulous Greek-American writer Eleni N. Gage, whose memoir North of Ithaka (2005) has rejuvenated Nicholas Gage's Eleni (1983) into a second generation. When I first met Eleni, she was still working for People Magazine and we met around the corner from her office at Molyvos. We had some mezedes, we couldn't afford the entrees. That same year, my mother-in-law (an expert chef) got the Molyvos cook book, having no idea that we had actually been to the restaurant.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Salty Peloponnesos

The Acts of the Third International Congress of Peloponnesian Studies, Kalamata, 8-15 September 1985 (Athens, 1987-1988) contain all kinds of neat papers spanning from antiquity to modernity. Angelike Panopoulou's article (in Greek) "Salt Works and the Production of Salt in the Peloponnese Based on the Grimani Archive (1698-1700)," (v. 3, pp. 305-329) is one such paper. Panopoulou presents the historical evidence for salt works in the Peloponnese. It's difficult to imagine such an obscure yet fascinating topic appearing in a mainstream academic journal. One has to love these Greek conference proceedings. I came across it only while searching for a different article by Drandakes on rock-cut chapels.

Cyprus seems to have been the dominant source of salt for Venice and its global markets until 1570-1571, when the island was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Crete filled the salt gap at the end of the 16th c. and first half of the 17th c., but the wars of 1645-1669 and the consequent loss to the Ottomans, as well, terminated supplies. As other European nations shouldered Venice out of her commercial primacy, the Venetian authorities compensated by exploiting salt production from their newly-acquired Peloponnesian colony. The Grimani archive illustrates that salt production was concentrated in Thermisio (Corinthia), Pyrgos, Lechaina (Eleia), Kamenitsa (Achaia), Methoni, and Coroni (Messenia). The salt of Thermisio was of best quality; the industrial installation employed about 600 workmen. The salt of Pyrgos was popular for local markets but too poor for export. Salt had been produced in Methoni and Coroni since the 13th c. and continued to be exploited. I would be curious to know if there is any archaeological evidence on salt works. There is none that I know from Pyrgos, Lechaina, and Kamenitsa. I must asked Bill Caraher about Thermisio. The Corinthia seems prime for early industrial activities housing, for example, Washingtonia, an American company town that is almost completely forgotten. I cannot wait for EKAS to publish this site.

Panopoulou raises issues of labor. A large workforce had to be conscripted from the mountainous hinterland. Some coercion had to be exercised since most locals preferred agricultural work to the miserable industrial conditions of salt. Panopoulou offers hard data on production quantities and qualities. Although this is a 20-year old article, its obscurity makes it an exciting discovery, and a veritable thirst-quencher.

Food has been on my mind while I prepare a seminar on the Medieval Mediterranean for Wesleyan University. See future postings on medieval food. For a global history of salt, a popular work (now in paperback) hits the spot, Mark Kurlanskry,
Salt: A World History (New York, 2002). I've seen it in stock at most Border's and Barnes and Nobles bookstores.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Quantifying Byzantine Architecture

I often find myself trying to explain (or justify) the methodological differences between art history and archaeology to the extent that, in the 1960s, the discipline of archaeology veered away from stylistic agency and aligned itself to the sciences (physical and social). Cecil L. Striker is one of the few architectural historians to facilitate this transition in the field of Byzantine Studies. To this day, some of his colleagues still distrust scientific fact, for instance when dendrochronology contradicts dates derived by stylistic comparisons. In similar ways, text historians might privilege a chronicler's word over stratigraphy. One of the tools that Striker employed in his research is statistical analysis, and he encouraged students to take courses in statistics over traditional offerings on style or iconography.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Striker regularly taught a graduate seminar on the Topography of Constantinople. The students who took this class through the years will all remember Striker's quantitative analysis of church foundations based on Raymond Janin's
Les Églises et les monastéres (Paris 1953, 1969). I remember, Betsey Robinson worked on this topic, and Gunder Varinlioglu explored the data in "Urban Monasteries in Constantinople and Thessaloniki: Distribution Patterns in Time and Urban Topography," published in Striker's Festschrift, Archaeology in Architecture (Mainz, 2005), pp. 187-198.

Striker's study was known only to his students, who never forgot his battleship graphs. But this doesn't have to be the case anymore. Having completed the second volume of Kalenderhane, Striker has turned to the publication of his smaller articles. The quantitative analysis of Constantinopolitan churches has just been published in the German journal of architectural history,
Architectura, where Striker had published his controversial dates on Byzantine churches based on dendrochronology. It's great work:

Cecil L. Striker, John Malcolm Russell, and Janet C. Russel, "Quantitative Indications about Church Building in Constantinople, 325-1453 A.D.,"
Architectura 38 (2008) pp, 1-12.

Striker’s statistical analysis confirms the correlation between building activity and period of prosperity according to accepted historical views, those periods falling into four spikes in 375-600, 775-950, 1025-1200, and 1250-1400. Other trends are discussed, such as a building lacuna in the late Macedonian to early Comnenian dynasties, a recovery in the Comnenian period, and similarities between the Comnenian and Palaeologue periods. The numbers also illustrate a decline in imperial foundation after 900 complemented by an increase in non-imperial foundations. By the Palaeologue period (1250-1350), non-imperial foundations are double the average, and there are no imperial foundations at all. Monastic foundations, particularly after 650, rise above the general average. Striker makes a fascinating comparison between new foundations and restorations: only in 750-800 do restorations greatly outnumber new foundations. After ca. 900, restorations are marginally higher than new foundations. Monastic churches seem to be consistently half as many as non-monastic churches during the Middle Byzantine period, while in the Late Byzantine period monastic and non-monastic foundations are equal. Finally, Striker explores the lack of building activity under specific imperial reigns. Interestingly, less than half of all 84 Byzantine emperors sponsored church construction, and they happen to be the ones with longer reigns. Short-reigned emperors (especially five years or less) simply did not invest in their architectural legacy. These are few of the conclusions made possible through statistical analysis. The data, presented in numerous graphs, will surely offer further observations.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Mapping the 2007 Fires of Eleia

Last summer, a devastating series of fires ravaged the Greek countryside turning the province of Eleia into a lunar landscape. It made international news with unfortunate human fatalities. Much of the coverage focused on the ancient site of Olympia, which was saved. Listen to a 5-min. NPR interview by Jack Davis, director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, August 28, 2007 ("Greece Fires Menace Archaeological Ruins"). The professor's house mentioned is no other that the infamous base of the Morea Project, Frederick Cooper's house in Neohori.

In the interim year, I've been hoping to map the extents of the damage. At some point, I even contemplated applying for grants to document the damage. As part of my Eleia mapping project (see earlier postings), I've digitized NASA’s satellite image of the affected area circulated through BBC and other news agencies. Combined with my GIS map of the region's villages, and settlements, one can specifically trace which sites were physically affected. I haven't seen any such map already, so I'm excited to make it available.

In addition to the loss of human life, Eleians lost their olive orchards, a significant part of their livelihood. Although Olympia was saved, lesser known architectural monuments were affected. Masonry did not easily burn, but wooden roofs, scaffolding, etc. collapsed. As preservationists know all too well, the deterioration rates of a building once the roof collapses are dramatic. After the fire, the Greek media focused on the options: to rebuild or tear down. During 1990-2000, the Morea Project documented thousands of houses in the area. The data is available here on a wonderful server that Todd Breningmeyer has put together. Many of the villages we surveyed were directly hit by the fires. It's sad to think that our architectural survey, in many cases, remains as the only record of such a rich architectural tradition.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States