Wednesday, 29 October 2014

(Mis-)Identities, Tinted Glasses and Riddles: Roman and Natives in South-West Scotland

Alessandra Turrini - PhD Archaeology 

My research looks at native societies and at how they change at the end of the Long Iron Age: in simple terms, that’s the period from just before the Romans arrived, to just after they left. In this post, I will present part of my research from the region of Dumfriesshire, showing the inconsistencies between written sources and archaeology for the Roman Iron Age in Dumfriesshire, as well as the tantalising riddles that still remain unanswered.

To keep within the word limit, let us consider just two sources: Ptolemy’s Geography and Tacitus’s Agricola. The former is the description of a map for the known world, the latter the biography of the author’s father in law. They are both concerned in what is known to Romanists as the Flavian period: that is, the late first century AD. The Geography lists three tribes who live in south-west Scotland, the Selgovae, the Novantae and the Damnoni; and for each tribe it lists a number of key sites, or πόλεις: literally, the word means city, but a looser interpretation of ‘focal site’ is probably better (Ptolemy 1843, p.70 (3.7–9)). Building on this text, we could extrapolate three key factors about south-west Scotland in this period: a) there are cultural subdivision in the native social landscape; b) these subdivisions are reflected in physical landscape subdivision; c) each group has at least a degree of social organisation, with common sites of importance present in each territory.

The Agricola paints a not quite as flattering image: it says that the native tribes were so terrified that they did not dare to stand up the Roman soldiers, whose only issue was the weather (Tacitus 2006, 66–69 (ch.22)). If we were to extrapolate from this source at face value, we would certainly not think about a strong social identity, nor of social organisation. However, when dealing with historical sources, it is always necessary to remember their context. The Geography is based on military intelligence, probably the same one available to the Roman generals who first pushed into Scotland. It is based on an outsider’s point of view, and it may not record anything more than fleeting alliances between otherwise similar communities. The Agricola is, for all intents and purposes, a PR text to praise his main character: it would hardly be fitting of Agricola’s exploits if, after having spent the preceding chapters obliterating one tribe, the next tribe he engages with was not suitably cowered.

Map from one of the areas from my sample of Dumfriesshire, realised in ArcGIS with data from Canmore

The archaeological evidence from the region does not support a reading of centralisation for this period, showing a number of different fortifications and defended settlements potentially in synchronic use in the landscape of Dumfriesshire. It is also at odds with the cowering people that Tacitus portrayed. In fact, it shows a degree of co-operation and integration with the native people of Dumfriesshire, with the birth of an entirely new settlement system. 

Table with distances between closest polygonal settlements across my sample area. Also note the similarity between group A and the distance represented by two militaria (Roman miles)

In the Iron Age, settlements can be described as curvilinear enclosures, while during the period discussed a new system of polygonal enclosures springs up in the landscape; each settlement is located approximately two Roman miles away from the closest one, thus creating inter-visibility chains. None of the settlements in my sample have been excavated, but other similar settlements, like Carronbridge, have yielded a date of first through second century AD, so during the period the Romans were directly present in the south-west Scotland (Johnston et al. 1994). However, the identity of these settlements’ dwellers, their relationship with the rest of the native populations, and what happens to them after the second century AD, is a mystery. Polygonal settlements are more common in the Early Historic period, so the trend they started certainly continues on. There are several other polygonal settlements which do not fit in the two-mile pattern, which may or may not be contemporary with those that do. There also are examples of settlements within the two-mile pattern which have been relocated, suggesting that the system might have outlived the Romans.

Overall, the archaeological evidence is much more layered than the historical sources. It talks of a landscape inhabited by many communities, sharing the same architectural vocabulary; it also talks of change. The native populations did not seem to be afraid of the Romans: they, or at least some of them, embraced the new culture and mirrored these changes in their new homes.

Works Cited:

Johnston, D., L. Allason-Jones, S. Boardman, S. Carter, A. Clarke, B. Crone, M. Dalland, et al. 1994. “Carronbridge, Dumfries and Galloway: The Excavation of Bronze Age Cremations, Iron Age Settlements and a Roman Camp.” PSAS 124: 233–91.

Ptolemy, C. 1843. Geographia. Edited by C. F. A. Nobbe. Lipsia: Carolus Tauchnitius.

Tacitus. 2006. “Agricola.” In Agricola. Germania. Dialogus., 1–115. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Cultural Memory and Medieval Reliquaries

Samuel Gerace – PhD Candidate History of Art

Oftentimes as academics, we are specifically called to work on interdisciplinary research projects. Perhaps it is my undergraduate work in Fine Art, or the influence of friends and colleagues in the Social Sciences, or simply the interdisciplinary nature of History of Art, but I find this type of research to be some of the most fulfilling.

In my own PhD research, I study early medieval house-shaped shrines from Britain and Ireland, and trace their connections to continental reliquaries and chrismals from the seventh to the eleventh century. To define these terms, a reliquary is a container that holds the corporeal remains of saints and or objects that they may have touched in life. The term 'chrismal' is slightly more complicated, but in the early medieval period, it was used to describe containers for chrism oil as noted in the Missale Francorum, the Eucharist in the Rule of St Columba, and relics in Gregory of Tours Lives of the Fathers (Snoke 1995). As for the term 'house-shaped shrines', arguably one of the most famous house-shaped shrines is the Monymusk reliquary, held by the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh [Figure 1]. The term house-shaped derives from the form of the shrine, which appears like that of a hip-roofed house, though churches, temples, and sarcophagi have all been listed as possible alternatives (Blindheim 1984). While this may be the topic of my thesis, more generally I am drawn to engagements with Christian saints. I leave this phrase specifically vague, as while I’m trained in medieval art, I do not feel particularly precluded from researching how this topic manifests in contemporary art, (early) modern texts, or even in folklore. While I bring a certain Art Historical and even Early Medieval angle into this type of research, my real passion rests in the boundaries between the disciplines and in the records that deal with the spiritual interactions between audiences and the saints, both canonical and popular.  
Figure 1

The connection between saints and contemporary audiences is an ongoing phenomenon, and can be witnessed in both blogs and in contemporary art displays. Scholar and blogger, Elizabeth Harper, hosts a blog ‘All the Saints you Should Know’, where she writes about the relics of saints, art, and the experience of coming face-to-face with images of death. Harper engages with the narratives and art of the saints, thus extending their sphere of influence to a wider audience. The power of the saints not only rests in their ability to perform miracles, but even more so in their ability to be remembered and the continuing bonds they engender, as seen in the work of Michael Landy’s, Saint’s Alive (Boeye 2013). Responding to both the gallery’s collection and the Golden Legend, Landy produced seven kinetic sculptures that required direct audience participation to ‘come alive’ [Figure 2]. Landy’s present engagement with both long dead saints, writers, and artists offers an interesting lens through which to witness how continuing bonds is present in contemporary art practices. 

Figure 2

Indeed, continuing bonds theory, (more often used in the social research disciplines,) also offers a view into medieval art and my own research topic. The Monymusk shrine did not gain its fame by its shape, but by being aligned with one of the most important saints in the Celtic world, St. Columba. It is precisely in trying to tackle this issue that drew me to research on social death and continuing bonds. (Daniels 2009, Jamieson 1995, Klass, Silverman, and Nickman 2014, Unruh 1983). Using theories and discourses more commonly found in social research contexts, new insights can given to medieval art and even present engagements with it. Early medieval scholars have long talked about the saints and how their living audiences developed and interacted with them, but continuing bonds theory provides a language through which to discuss how this takes place and how it can reflect in present practices. In particular, these types of engagements help to push the boundaries of the disciplines, affording new research opportunities. 

Selected Bibliography: 

Blindheim, Martin. "A House-Shaped Irish-Scots Reliquary in Bologna, and Its Place among the Other Reliquaries." Acta Achaeologica 55 (1984): 1-53.  

Boeye, Kerry. "Michael Landy: Saints Alive: National Gallery, London May 23-November 24, 2013." West 86th 20 (2013): 250-255.  
Daniels, Inge. "The Social Death' of Unused Gifts Surplus and Value in Contemporary Japan." Journal of Material Culture 14 (2009): 385-408.  

Jamieson, Ross W. "Material culture and social death: African-American burial practices." Historical Archaeology 29 (1995): 39-58.  

Klass, Dennis, Phyllis R. Silverman, and Steven Nickman, eds. Continuing bonds: New Understandings of Grief. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2014.  

Snoek, Godefridus J.C. Medieval Piety from Relics to the Eucharist: A Process of Mutual Interaction.  Leiden: Brill, 1995. 

Unruh, David R. "Death and personal history: Strategies of identity preservation." Social Problems 30 (1983): 340-351.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Beyond Good and Evil - The Image of Jews and Muslims around 1100

Fabian Bojkovsky - PhD Candidate History of Art

In my research I am looking at the larger corpus of representations of Jews and Muslims in Christian Spanish art. In this post I will present one of my case studies, the Girona Creation Tapestry, and introduce my reading in short. The embroidery (even though it is actually an embroidery it is usually called a tapestry) is dated between 1050 and 1110. The tapestry shows Christ and scenes from the Genesis centrally in a medallion. Cosmological and biblical figures are depicted on the edges. Below the central medallion is the invention of the True cross, which shall be our main point of interest on the tapestry.

 Photo: Fabian Bojkovsky

It begins on the left with Helena standing in front of a vaulted building and conversing with Judas Cyriacus. Behind him two Jews are displayed next to Jerusalem. All figures are identified by inscribtions. Next to Jerusalem we can see the top piece of a large cross. It is all that remains of the figure that was holding it, now lost, and its interpretation remains controversial and will be discussed later. To the right of the cross-end Judas Cyriacus is praying to find the true cross which results in a sweet smell at the site of Golgotha. This scene is followed by Judas digging up the three crosses and afterwards testing which is the true cross by touching a dead body. The 'True Cross' would then miraculously resurrect the body.

Photo: Fabian Bojkovsky

The Jewish figures in the narrative are not distinguished by any visual markers (Patton, 2012, 17-18). While we might be inclined to argue that this is evidence of a fairly neutral representation, we should consider that the legend of the True Cross and Judas Cyriacus itself had several clearly Anti-Jewish aspects. In the legend Helena forces Judas to help her by leaving him in a well for several days without food. Further the legend ends with Judas conversion to Christianity after he witnessed the miracles of the 'True Cross'. While the tapestry does not illustrate these parts of the narrative, we might suspect that the audience knew of them as this version of the story was quite popular.

While the identity of the figure with the cross that is now lost is controversial, I would suggest that the recent suggestions by Barabra Baert, that it originally showed Herclius is convincing (Baert, 1999, 122-123). His inclusion would have important implications for the meaning of the tapestry. The Byzantine emperor was associated with the fight against Islam due to his success in battle against the Persian king Chosroes II in the early seventh century. While historically incorrect, later Christianity identified Chosroes and his kingdom as Islamic therefore making Heraclius an important figure of Christian-Muslim conflicts in the history of the world (Baert, 1999, 124-125). His presence in the cosmographical program would have to be understood in reference to the contemporary battles against Islam on the Iberian Peninsula while also reassuring Christian victory.

The references to Jews and possibly Muslims within the tapestry localise them within the Christian cosmos, however in very different ways. While Jews are presented as ambiguous part of the Christian world and its history, the hypothetical reference to Islam portrays Muslims as enemies that, in the tradition of Heraclius, need to be purged off the Christian world fabric.

Other imagery of Jews and Muslims can be found throughout the Iberian Peninsula. One example is the tympanum of San Isidoro in León. While a lot could be said about this work I will summarise  a possible reading for this piece. The figures of Ishmael and Hagar, depicted on the bottom left, can be understood as representations of Islam (Williams, 1977, 3-14) and more specifically reflect the idea of Islam as essentially a Christian heresy, thus portraying Islam's point of departure from the 'true' church in the tympanum. Another example, a capital in Santo Domingo de Silos, shows hybrid creatures with headscarves that appear to allude to Muslims. Its position in the program and connections to other capitals suggests that these Muslim hybrid figures need to be understood as the evil side of the moralising program of the cloister (Valdez del Álamo, 2012). On the basis of textual evidence, such as the Vita Dominici Exiliensis, I would suggest that they also connect to monk's perceptions of and experiences with Islam.

Photo: Monestirs Puntcat

In summary, representations of Jews and Muslims within Christian spaces seem to have taken very different forms around 1100. It may not surprise that these images show very different faces of the Other, but are these differences due to their individual context, signs of the flexibility of the image of Otherness or due to regional differences among the Iberian kingdoms? These are just some further questions that will be considered in my work on the representation of Jews and Muslims in these objects.

Selected Bibliography:

Baert, Barbara, 'New Observations on the Genesis of Girona (1050 - 1100). The Iconography of the Legend of the True Cross', in Gesta 38 (1999), 115-127
Castiñeiras, Manuel, The Creaion Tapestry (Girona: Cathedral of Girona, 2011)

De Palol, Pere and Hirmer, Max, Early Medieval Art in Spain (London: Thames and Hudson, 1967)

———. , 'Une broderie catalane d'époque romane. La Genése de Gérone. 1', in Cahiers archéologiques 8 (1956), 175-214

———. , 'Une broderie catalane d'époque romane. La Genése de Gérone. 2', in Cahiers archéologiques 11 (1957), 219-237
Patton, Pamela Anne, Art of Estrangement: Redefining Jews in Reconquest Spain (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012)

Valdez del Álamo, Elizabeth, Palace of the Mind: The Cloister of Silos and Spanish Sculpture of the Twelfth Century (Turnhout: Brepols, 2012)

Williams, John, 'Generationes Abrahae. Reconquest Iconography in Leon', in Gesta 16.2 (1977), 3-14

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Religion and Daily Life: What Church Architecture Can Tell Us About Life in Byzantine Lycia

Audrey Scardina - PhD in Archaeology, University of Edinburgh, with help from the The Suna & İnan Kıraç Research Institute on Mediterranean Civilizations AKMED research grants.  

In this post I will discuss the results of my August/September 2014 research trip to Southwest Turkey, ancient Lycia. I will focus on one of the sites covered in my LAMPS paper given on September 15th. The trip was undertaken in order to further research on my PhD, entitled, 'Ecclesiastical Architecture and Settlement in Byzantine Lycia,' where I study the architectural developments of Byzantine churches throughout the region in conjunction with secular builds. Through the changes in this architecture over time, I aim to glean a better understanding of the history of these sites and the people that populated them.

Figure 1. Plan of Istlada

Source: Institut für Klassische Archäologie, Wien

Our focus is the site of Istlada, which is located inland about ca. 1km from the sea (Bayburtluoğlu 2004, 212). It is built up a steep hill, where the church is located at the bottom of the hill. Of the church Clive Foss, who surveyed the Lycian Coast in 1994, says nothing except for acknowledging its existence (27). The site was surveyed by Thomas Marksteiner's team from 1994 - 1998, though I have yet to be able to access their publications. In a later publication, Marksteiner (2010, 142) dates the basilica to the 6th century, the associated apsidal room to the same period, and the barrel-vaulted chapel to the middle to late Byzantine period (Fig. 1).

Figure 2. Apse of basilca, looking east.

Source: Self

The 6th century basilica is built of stone-faced rubble and mortar (Fig. 2), where the stones are often large in size, ca. 60 - 80 cm. The apse of the basilica is built of ashlar masonry. The associated apsidal room, referred to by Marksteiner (2010, 142) as a 'reliquary chapel', is also built of stone-faced rubble and mortar, including the apse. The blocks used to build this chapel are notably smaller than those used to build the basilica, ca. 40-50 cm (Fig. 3). This change in construction technique, especially due to the apse being built of stone-faced rubble and mortar instead of ashlar, suggests that the chapel should be considered a second phase of construction. 

Figure 3. Apse of apsidal room

Source: Self
This theory is aided when examining the relationship of the apsidal room to the basilica. As is visible on the plan (Fig. 1), the way in which these two buildings functioned together is as yet unclear from the remains on the ground. If the northern chapel wall were to extend directly southwest, as the southern wall does, it would abut the basilica's southeast corner. There is, however, no evidence for this taking place. If the structures were built in the same period, as Marksteiner has suggested, one would expect an obvious doorway between the two structures, which, again is nowhere to be found.

Figure 4. Northern doorway of western wall in apsidal room

Source: Self

The matter becomes more complicated when looking at the wall to the west of the apsidal room, which presumably would have been the back wall of the building, as well as the access point. There are three gaps in the wall; one between the southern wall extending off the apse, tone that seems central, and then one to the north. The northern gap is the most incongruous; If the wall off of the north of the apse was to follow a straight line, as the southern wall does, it would hit this western wall to the south of the northern gap. There is, however, no evidence for wall joining on this segment of wall (Figure 4). What does exist is a large block of stone ca. 1m up the wall that protrudes to the east, north, and south of the wall, and above which is the springing of an archway. The problems do not stop here, ca. 70 cm from the arch springing is another wall, which would have cut the archway almost in half. It unclear if the rubble between these two walls was purposeful walling up, or is just rubble from the collapse of the archway. 

Figure 5. Apse of later chapel, looking southwest

Source: Self 

This suggests far more layers of occupation and phases of building than originally suggested by Marksteiner. The site is further complicated by the addition of the vaguely dated middle- to late-Byzantine Chapel located inside the basilica (Fig. 5). The chapel is built of s stone-faced rubble and mortar, where the stone facing is irregular. It was then covered in a layer of mortar that would have originally been frescoed (Marksteiner 2010, 142). At some point, most likely before the chapel was built, the windows and doors of the basilica were walled up. Though, as mentioned above, it is unclear whether the doorways to the apsidal were walled up, there is no evidence for filling in the windows of the apse. This could suggest that the apsidal room was still in use while the chapel was being used. 

Though my research trip was incredibly helpful to my project, as usual it left me with more questions than answers. For Istlada, I will begin by trying to examine the different phases of the building in more detail, as well as by studying the connection of the basilica and the apsidal room. I believe this is key to understanding how the function of this church changed over time, which may help us to understand how the interaction of citizens of Istlada with the church evolved as well. 

The better dating and understanding of the apsidal room may also help to refine the date of the chapel within the basilica as well. This phenomenon, of a chapel being built inside an earlier basilica, is actually region-wide and will need to be researched at a wider scale before any strong conclusions can be drawn. Until then I am left to wonder what the state of the earlier basilica would have been while the chapel was in use. Was it ruined? If so was it the collapse of the church that merited the much smaller rebuild, or was that due to changes in liturgy? Or, was the church at some point simply too large and impractical? Next time, maybe I will have the answers. 

Works Cited: 
BAYBURTLUOĞLU, C. 2004. Lycia (Volume 1 van Suna & İnan Kırac Research Institute on Mediterranean Civilizations travel guide series). Istanbul: Homer Kitabevi ve Yayincilik Ltd.

MARKSTEINER, T. 2010. Lykien: ein archäologischer Führer. Wien: Phoibos. 

ND. Institut für Klassische Archäologie, Istlada Survey. [online] Available at <> [Accessed 29 September 2014].