Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2020.02.30 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2020.02.30

Ine Jacobs (ed.), Asia Minor in the Long Sixth Century: Current Research and Future Directions.   Oxford:  Oxbow Books, 2019.  Pp. viii, 245.  ISBN 9781789250077.  £38.00.  


Reviewed by Andreas Külzer, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Division of Byzantine Research (Andreas.Kuelzer@oeaw.ac.at)

Preview [Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Especially in the first millennium, Asia Minor was one of the core regions of the Byzantine Empire, a distinctive peninsula with countless resources that were important for the prosperity of the state and its capital Constantinople. The sixth century on the other hand, the period of transition from late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages, belongs to the often discussed research topics in academic literature. The combination of both subjects, the geographical and the chronological one, in a single book title will surely arouse curiosity among academics; many scholars will have a look at this book. To say it in advance: they will not be disappointed, even high expectations are met. All in all, the present collection of thirteen essays written by historians and archaeologists on different aspects of the subject is a distinguished one.

The editors Hugh Elton and Ine Jacobs start their informative Introduction (1–8) with general methodological considerations concerning the aspects of space and time: The subdivision of history by using the category “Centuries” is sometimes problematic because of its randomness, people must be aware of the teleological aspects in their analyses. The inclusion of Thrace and the empire’s capital Constantinople into the term Asia Minor is correctly justified with realities of the Byzantine administration (1, 3). Assignments and groupings of the thirteen essays follow; the editors present some interactions between single articles. Most of them, six in number, are dealing with the well documented area of the diocese Asiana in the west of Asia Minor. One of them is the following text, written by Inge Uytterhoeven, “A change of appearance. Urban housing in Asia Minor during the sixth century” (9–28). It is concentrated on settlements in Western Anatolia, among them the cities of Sardis, Hierapolis, Ephesus and Sagalassos, but also the rural area in between. In these spaces, the urban elites built luxurious residences during the fourth and fifth centuries AD, spacious and well decorated. From the sixth century onwards however, a good number of these houses changed their character, in the countryside as well as in the cities. Their aristocratic atmosphere was debased, they lost their exclusiveness and most of their decoration elements when craft businesses and taverns were set up in parts of these buildings. Henceforward, members of the lower classes lived side by side with aristocrats. This seems to be an interesting insight into the social history of that period and the former understanding of private and public space. Regardless of collecting the material, the value of this essay lays in its deep analysis. The change in space was not a single phenomenon but a supra-regional one, common in vast landscapes in Western Anatolia.

The essay of Ine Jacobs, “Pagan-mythological statuary in sixth-century Asia Minor” (29–43) deals also with aspects of public space: using the example of Sagalassos, the author emphasizes the fact that even in the sixth century pagan statues were existent in different parts of the city. Despite of all the well-known destructions, several statues survived during that time, some of them Christianized by adding appropriate attributes, some of them still reused in another context. Revisions and relocations of statutes were common. I agree with the author’s statement that statues were not only a passive element of city decoration. Quite the opposite, they own an active function in urban space, even if this is difficult to realize nowadays. This applies not only for Sagalassos and Pisidia, where our knowledge is rich due to the excellent excavations and the various archaeological discoveries, but also for other cities in Asia Minor (esp. 29, 39–40).

In his article “Sixth-century Asia Minor through the lens of hagiography: ecclesiastical power and institutions in city and countryside”, Efthymios Rizos underlines the importance of Asia Minor for the formation of the literary genre of hagiography (45–61); various works have been written here, many settlements, cities and villages are mentioned in the texts. There is no better documentation of rural life in late Antiquity; places like Sykeon in Galatia or Sion in Lycia became famous thanks to hagiography. Important is the observation that the main characters of the vitae were city-based bishops during the fourth and fifth centuries; in the sixth century however, the situation changed and the founders of monasteries, often based in the country-side, became the leading actors in the texts. The author’s ease of handling the sources is impressive; reading of this essay is exciting and informative.

The article of Kristina Terpoy, “Studying Asia Minor in the sixth century. Methodological considerations for an economic analysis” uses three case studies in Isauria / Cilicia, in Lycia and in Northern Asia Minor to visualize that economic analyses of late Antique Anatolia at large are possible, regardless of dissimilar contemporary sources, miscellaneous research situation and regional differences that, however, do not count as a whole (63–78).

The essay of Emanuele E. Intagliata, “Forgotten borderlands. Northeastern Anatolia in the sixth century and its potential for frontier studies” focus on the wide but mountainous and in late Antiquity less inhabited landscapes of the diocese Pontica (79–90). The text is dedicated to the Byzantine defense system in so-called Tzanica, an area located by Procopius of Caesarea in the east of modern Trabzon. Just one of the seven fortresses mentioned by the historian can be identified assuredly. A lot of academic work remains to be done, as the author stresses out correctly. However, the Viennese research project Tabula Imperii Byzantini, dedicated to historical geography of the Eastern Mediterranean, will start its work in the region in the year 2020 and should help to clear the picture.

The essay of Hugh Elton, “The countryside in southern Asia Minor in the long sixth century” is dedicated to the wide area between Lycia in the West and Cilicia in the East (91–107). Using various data, written in a pleasant and erudite style, the text emphasizes the massive changes in the countryside due to Christianization and, later in the seventh century, due to the raids by Persians and Arabs. The importance of the Justinianic plague in the 540ies was obviously smaller for the countryside than for the coastlines, but the last word in this discussion is not spoken yet. The author’s statements can be confirmed by the comprehensive books of Hild, Friedrich and Hansgerd Hellenkemper, Kilikien und Isaurien. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences 1990, and Hellenkemper, Hansgerd and Friedrich Hild, Lykien und Pamphylien. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences 2004, both with more than a thousand pages, providing further details concerning the villages and local centers in the countryside.

The rich information originating from these volumes is incorporated into the following essay, written by Angela Commito and dealing with “The cities of southern Asia Minor in the sixth century” (109–141). While urban development in the seventh century is a matter of intense academic discussion, the situation in the sixth century seems to be quite clear. The author underlines in her erudite and well-documented text the importance of sacral buildings and fortification walls as dominant monuments in urban landscapes, furthermore the importance of spoliation. The different city plans added to the text enable the reader to follow her argumentation easily. For sure, this is one of the best articles in a marvelous collection.

The following article by Hugh Jeffrey, “Aspects of sixth-century urbanism in western Asia Minor” leads to one of the most important landscapes of the Byzantine Empire, provided with various central market towns like Ephesus, Miletus, Sardis or Hierapolis (143–165). In close interaction with its predecessor, the text refers to the development of Christian ecclesiastical architecture, including, among others, references to the church of St. John in Philadelphia, modern Alaşehir, and the so- called building D in Sardis. Both structures were important for the further development of church building in Anatolia. Synagogues like the ones in Sardis or in Priene were usual components of the urban landscapes; the author underlines also the importance of bathhouses or private residences. At this point, a connection is established to the above mentioned essay by I. Uytterhoeven. The author succeeds well in illustrating the numerous phenomena in a comparatively short text.

James Crow starts his essay “Constantinople in the long sixth century” (167–180) with a clear definition concerning the “long sixth century,” which he dates comprehensibly from the beginning of the reign of Emperor Anastasius I in 491 until the great siege of Constantinople by Persians and Avars in 626 (167). Skillfully, the author highlights aspects of the city’s history, including the impact of the progressive Christianization on the local building stock. Concerning this article it should be emphasized again that complicated issues such as urban development are presented in a compact and well-balanced manner. The incorporated academic literature is rich and adequate, merely concerning the hinterland of Constantinople one could add Külzer, Andreas, Ostthrakien (Eurōpē) . Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences 2008; concerning the harbors Daim, Falco, Die byzantinischen Häfen Konstantinopels. Mainz: Roman Germanic Central Museum 2016.

To round out the volume, three regional studies are added at the end: Owen Doonan, “Industrial agriculture, intensification and collapse in Sinope and its territory during the late Roman / early Byzantine periods” (181–195) refers to an important settlement in the diocese Pontica; Andrew Wilson, “Aphrodisias in the long sixth century” (197–221) and Beate Böhlendorf-Arslan, “The glorious sixth century in Assos. The unknown prosperity of a provincial city in western Asia Minor” (223–245) are dealing with urban centers in the diocese Asiana. All of these settlements are different in structure, design and interaction with the surrounding areas.

As mentioned in the beginning, the book is a distinguished one; the individual essays are well-informed and erudite. Each is referenced with an individual, mostly exhaustive bibliography. Some additional thoughts: an overview of the articles at the end of the book, which might have served to introduce the whole topic, would have been useful but is missing. The lack of a general index is regrettable; it makes it more difficult to use the valuable information within this important essay collection. Furthermore, a compilation of the Future Directions mentioned in the title would have been welcome. In its current form, the aspects have to been worked out from the individual articles; they are therefore particular and topical. A summary from a more global perspective, similar to the Introduction, would have been nice. However, these remarks are not intended to reduce the fundamental value of this remarkable book.

Authors and titles

Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 2. A change of appearance. Urban housing in Asia Minor during the sixth century. Inge Uytterhoeven
Chapter 3. Pagan-mythological statuary in sixth-century Asia Minor. Ine Jacobs
Chapter 4. Sixth-century Asia Minor through the lens of hagiography: ecclesiastical power and institutions in city and countryside. Efthymios Rizos
Chapter 5. Studying Asia Minor in the sixth century. Methodological considerations for an economic analysis. Kristina Terpoy
Chapter 6. Forgotten borderlands. Northeastern Anatolia in the sixth century and its potential for frontier studies. Emanuele E. Intagliata
Chapter 7. The countryside in southern Asia Minor in the long sixth century. Hugh Elton
Chapter 8. The cities of southern Asia Minor in the sixth century. Angela Commito
Chapter 9. Aspects of sixth-century urbanism in western Asia Minor.
Hugh Jeffery
Chapter 10. Constantinople in the long sixth century. James Crow
Chapter 11. Industrial agriculture, intensification and collapse in Sinope and its territory during the late Roman/early Byzantine periods. Owen Doonan
Chapter 12. Aphrodisias in the long sixth century. Andrew Wilson
Chapter 13. The glorious sixth century in Assos. The unknown prosperity of a provincial city in western Asia Minor. Beate Böhlendorf-Arslan
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