BMCR 2020.12.03

Identity and cultural exchange in ancient Cilicia

, Identity and cultural exchange in ancient Cilicia: new results and future perspectives. Internationales Kolloquium 18.-19. Mai 2018 in München. Mitteilungen zur spätantiken Archäologie und byzantinischen Kunstgeschichte, 7. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2020. Pp. 160. ISBN 9783954904280 €39,80.

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[The Table of contents is listed below.]

This book presents the proceedings of an international conference of the same name which took place in Munich on the 18th-19th May 2018. This, the first international conference on Cilicia since 2007, aimed to use the latest archaeological research into Cilicia to critically reassess the identity and multicultural character of the area. Whilst renewed interest in this area of modern Turkey has occurred since the opening of the Research Centre for Cilician Archaeology at the University of Mersin in 1993, it remains far less well studied than some of its western neighbours. Following on behind the Rough Cilicia project, published in 2013, this work makes headway into bringing this fascinating and diverse region to scholarly attention. The eight papers, five in English, three in German, with abstracts in English, German and Turkish, cover a wide range of evidence; authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.

The volume promises “New results and future perspectives” on identity and cultural exchange in Cilicia, though due to the varying degrees to which individual sites have been excavated, or the material from them has been analysed, the papers vary accordingly in new details and rigorous analysis. Spanu’s attempt to reassess the cities of Roman Cilicia in terms of how the process of urbanisation occurred in the province, whilst providing an overview of the principal architectural typologies of the cities, is somewhat plagued by the lack of archaeological excavation in the area. After setting out to note what he calls the “peculiarities” of Roman Cilician cities, the majority of the features of the urban landscape that he does discuss are common to most cities of Asia Minor; the apparent absence of agorai being the only exception. He concludes by saying that although urbanisation occurred far later in Cilicia than in the rest of Asia Minor, it should not be considered as culturally peripheral or isolated, but subject to the same influences and processes as the rest of Asia Minor. Such a conclusion in this context was somewhat disappointing, but largely resulting from the cursory nature of the article driven by the lack of evidence available to the author.

The articles by Polosa and Borgia attempt to discuss Cilicia’s connectivity with the rest of the world and its resultant multicultural character by examining respectively numismatic and epigraphic evidence. Cilician coinage began to be minted in the third quarter of the 5th century B.C., far later than in many parts of Anatolia; Polosa suggests that Persian rule in the area prevented the minting of local coinage. Through a study of both coin hoards and loose finds, Polosa attempts to provide an overview of how minting habits and coin circulation can be used to examine regional identity from the fifth century B.C. to the ceasing of Cilician coinage in the seventh century A.D. She notes that in the Classical period, images on Cilician coins bear resemblance to coin types minted outside of the region. For example, coins from Tarsus share characteristics with those from Velia, Syracuse, and Persia. Since foreign coins generally did not circulate in Classical Cilicia, she argues that this is partially explained by historical links between places, but it is far too common an occurrence to be the sole factor. She suggests that such images were considered ones of value across the Greek world and could represent a shared heritage among those using them. Whilst this is an attractive proposition, the number and geographical spread of coins involved in Polosa’s study are lower and more limited than would be ideal to support such a theory. Borgia’s study of the multiculturalism of Cilicia through the attestation of locals and foreigners in the epigraphic evidence is also affected by the nature of her evidence. Unless it is specifically stated where someone in the inscription is from (a rare occurrence in Borgia’s corpus) it is very difficult to determine whether the person in question is local or a foreigner. Borgia’s study inevitably turns to onomastics and using both it and specific mentions of origins within the epigraphic record, she is able to identify people with Luwian, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Jewish, and Syrian names living and/or dying in Cilicia. Her evidence also allows her to see some variations of demographics within different areas of Cilicia, with seemingly different populations living in east and west Cilicia, as well as differences between coastal and inland settlements. However, both of these studies would benefit greatly from the further excavation in the area which I hope this volume leads to.

On the whole, the articles which have a closer geographical and/or chronological focus provide more successful discussions of identity and cultural exchange within Cilicia. Sayar discusses the historical events which shaped Cilicia’s settlements in Late Antiquity, namely the attempts by Theodosius II to revive the settlements ravaged a century and a half earlier by the Sassanid King Shapur I, earthquakes, and epidemics. His systematic discussion of the latest archaeological and epigraphic material, particularly related to the construction of churches, is linked to the socio-historical and economic development of Cilicia. He particularly illuminates the role played by the clergy in the area in the sixth century, where he argues that they acted in both religious and civic capacities and were major benefactors in their cities.

The city of Olba has been excavated over the last decade by a team led by Erten, and both her article on the last phases of settlement at the city and Yeğin and Özyιldιrιm’s study of its monastery and Christian identity reflect this latest work. Despite using the somewhat problematic terms “Hellenisation” and “Romanisation” without definitions or clarifications, Erten provides an overview of the evidence for settlement at Olba from the Bronze Age until the city’s “Christianisation” from the fourth century onwards, before discussing the literary and archaeological evidence for the decline of the city. Whilst settlement debris, including glass from lamps and window panes, and Phocaean, Cypriot, and African Red Slip pottery, suggests the abandonment of the city by the 7th century A.D., ecclesiastical documents attest to Olba’s affiliation with the Patriarchate of Antiocheia in the 10th century. Erten is unable to provide an explanation for this discrepancy and hopes that further excavation will solve this. However, evidence from her own excavations point to a decline in the settlement between the 5th and 7th centuries as a result of civil wars, earthquakes, and raids by the Sassanians. Yeğin and Özyιldιrιm’s clear and focused study of the monastery of Olba and its representation of Christian identity in the area begins with a detailed overview of the archaeological material found in the 2010-2015 excavations. They identify a 2nd or early 3rd century villa underneath the 5th or 6th century monastery, adding to our limited knowledge of the city in that period. The excavations revealed a large number of highly decorated architectural sculptures, a baptismal font with mosaics at the bottom, and architectural features known in churches across Cilicia, Isauria, and Syria, in addition to updating the plans of the monastery first published in the 1930s. From the new architectural evidence, Yeğin and Özyιldιrιm note that at Olba, for the major architectural elements, Romano-Imperial forms of architectural sculpture continued to be favoured by workshops. However, they have found that no pieces were directly copied from Roman examples, but that several Roman types were combined or used alongside self-developed local forms of architectural ornament. Smaller architectural elements, by contrast, were made in local styles to a high standard. They conclude by stating that the numerous outside influences on the architecture of the monastery of Olba indicate the importance of Cilicia as an area for cultural exchange. Whilst this is certainly a plausible interpretation for this particular site, further comparisons with other sites in Olba or other monastic buildings elsewhere would greatly enhance this study.

Korykos was a major Mediterranean port of Cilicia in the Roman and Byzantine periods, but despite this it has not been excavated fully, and the Roman finds in particular are neither numerous nor well studied. Cortese begins her article with a brief overview of the history and remains of Korykos, stressing its significant development from the mid-3rd century onwards, but particularly as a result of Christian influences in the 4th-6th centuries, during which time it became important enough to send its Bishop to the majority of Church Councils. Into this context of development, Cortese places her extensive and highly detailed discussion of the history and architecture of the so-called “extra mural grave church” located c. 400m outside the city. This enormous (78 x 28m) 6th century church has been associated with a number of early saints. Eighteen grave inscriptions mentioning the term “hagios” have been found in nearby necropoleis, but only two, Sts. Charitina and Konon are known for certain to have received later veneration. Cortese attempts to link some of the other names mentioned in the necropoleis of Korykos to known venerated saints, but it is not possible in every case. Cortese’s article, despite not being able to formally identify every one of Korykos’ “saints”, demonstrates that it was an important, well connected city which owed much of its prestige and identity to the influence of Christianity and the rise of the cult of saints.

The article in this volume which makes perhaps the most innovative attempt to reassess the evidence from Cilicia is Kristensen’s study of Meryemlik, famed for the Basilica of Thekla and its cave church. Using the concept of gathering as defined by the sociologist Erving Goffman, Kristensen explores how the physicality of three of the main spaces of the Sanctuary of Meryemlik, the rock cut section of the processual way, the space outside the temenos of the Basilica, and the Basilica itself including the single temenos gateway and the cave church beneath it, contributed to how a pilgrim to the site used, felt within, and interacted with, each space. Kristensen’s holistic approach to the architecture of sanctuary spaces, the way that people gathered and moved through them, and how this contributed to their experiences of the place has the potential to further our understanding of not only sanctuaries of Asia Minor as he hoped, but to any public space within the ancient world where people could gather. Gatherings and their resultant interactions took place in theatres, agorai, and even street corners and placing such gatherings into their spatial context has the potential to increase our understanding of ancient cityscapes and their users.

There is a lack of consistency with the naming of the two halves of the province, not only throughout the book but also on occasion within the same article. The mountainous region of the province is referred to as Rough Cilicia, Cilicia Tracheia, West Cilicia, and Cicilia Aspera, whilst the lowland region is referred to as Cilicia Piana, Cilicia Pedias, Plains Cilicia, and East Cilicia. For those unfamiliar with the geography and topography of the province, consistency across the volume would have aided comprehension.

This volume represents a much-needed discussion of the available archaeological, epigraphic, and literary evidence of an understudied province. However, despite many interesting observations and fascinating discoveries, the clearest theme running throughout the volume is that a lot more excavation, surveying, and eventually analysis of material is required in the very near future in order to thoroughly understand how cultural exchange shaped the identity of ancient Cilicia.

Table of Contents

Vorwort, 7-8.
Einführung, 9-11.
Marcello Spanu: The Cities of Kilikia During the Roman Period: a Reassessment, 12-37.
Annalisa Polosa: Coin Production and Coin Circulation in Cilicia Tracheia, 38-52.
Mustafa Sayar: Spätantike Siedlungen im Ebenen Kiliken, 53-62.
Emanuela Borgia: Cilicia as a Multicultural Region: Indigenous and Foreign People in Roman and Byzantine Inscriptions, 63-76.
Yavuz Yeğin and Murat Özyıldırım: Christliche Identität in Olba am Beispiel des Klosters von Olba, 77-94.
Emel Erten: The End of Antiquity at Olba, 95-109.
Arabella Cortese: Korykos und seine Heiligen in der Spätantike: Landschaft, Raum und Präsenz in der Grabeskirche extra muros, 110-137.
Troels Myrup Kristensen: Meryemlik, Gathering and the Archaeology of Pilgrimage, 138-152.