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Cities And Countryside (867 - 1204)

Πόλεις και ύπαιθρος στο Βυζάντιο (867-1204)

Review 

Albani, J., and E. Chalkia, eds. Heaven & Earth:

cities and countryside in Byzantine Greece.Athens: Benaki Museum, 2012. 

“For the inhabitants of the southern fringe of the Balkans – namely Eastern Thrace, Greece, and Western Albania – the years between 800 and 1200 were marked by the nearly-unbroken domination of the Byzantine state. 

Partly due to this unique political continuity, the state of the archaeological and historical evidence for Byzantine civilization in the southern fringe of the Balkans is better than in most other formerly Byzantine territories. But the evidence is not well integrated or sufficiently accessible. 

From the seventh century onwards, the capital’s upper-class looked upon on Greece’s inhabitants as innately inferior people. The situation improved for the provincials after Hellas’ reincorporation into the Empire at the end of the eighth century. Thereafter, the Greeks had much success in obtaining high politico-religious ranks. The mockery and disdain never abated, but this mirrored the Byzantine people’s complex rapport vis-à-vis the Ancient Greeks. 

 There were two or three interruptions, courtesy of the Bulgarians, but they did not exceed fifteen years. Although there is no exact chronological period, widely separated settlements brings together trade routes in Greece and some of the more important recent finds in the countryside. 

These include a large sixth century installation for wine production near Distomo, a luxurious fifth-century villa in Macedonian Palaiokastro, and an Early Byzantine ceramic workshop on the island of Kos. 

Every modern region in the country is covered to varying degrees. Structurally, most authors weave their archaeological and written sources into a single chronological narrative, although a few keep their sources separated. As for the authors’ focus on historical topics, it is more or less evenly divided between politics, the economy, and ecclesiastical activity. 

It will interest scholars wanting to witness the fruits of the aforementioned field excavations and surveys, as well as those conducting personal study of a certain type of artifacts. The book has much to recommend. First, and most importantly, the quality of the authors’ evidence is of a high standard. Both the archaeological conclusions and the text based statements are generally sound although readers should be advised that the agendas of the textual sources are rarely examined. 

This is a potentially serious issue, as knowledge of a source’s bias can dramatically alter our interpretation of that source… 

There are a few exceptions, of varying importance, with respect to the archaeological sources…  

The Constantinople-Greece relationship is not quite as engaging. Although it takes up valuable space, only a handful of sites are discussed. These appear to have been selected at random, and are lacking in context. Thus they do not give a clear image of the evolution of the rural economy. 

A situation all the more frustrating given that Veroia had considerable military and commercial importance during the Byzantine times. It stood astride the Via Egnatia, was the seat of a strategos in the 970s (and possibly thereafter), and was a major source of real-estate profit for Athonite clergymen in the eleventh and twelfth centuries”.