Online Review: Book

The Late Roman Church at Maroni Petrera. Survey and Salvage Excavations 1990–1997, and Other Traces of Roman Remains in the Lower Maroni Valley, Cyprus

Tassos C. Papacostas


By Sturt W. Manning, Andrew Manning, Roberta Tomber, David A. Sewell, Sarah J. Monks, Matthew J. Ponting, and Elinor C. Ribeiro. Pp. vi + 84, b&w figs. 57, color figs. 12, pls. 55, tables 4, maps 4. A.G. Leventis Foundation, Nicosia 2002. $45. ISBN 9963-560-42-3 (paper).

The site discussed in this book was bulldozed in 1991 before it could be properly investigated. It lies a few miles inland from the south coast of Cyprus, in what would have probably been the territory of the ancient city of Amathus. Evidence for its occupation, mainly in Late Roman times, was gathered before its destruction in the course of the preliminary season of the Maroni Valley Archaeological Survey Project (MVASP 1990), formed to investigate the region of the Late Bronze Age site at Maroni-Vournes. It was subsequently partly excavated (1993–1997, reported in AJA 99 [1995] 291, and AJA 102 [1998] 349), and it is primarily the results of this excavation that are presented in this concise but handsome volume. Considering the difficult circumstances with which the team under S. Manning was faced, the outcome is nothing short of admirable. The relatively speedy process of excavation, study, and publication is also exemplary and indeed laudable, especially in view of the fact that other sites in the same area have been completely destroyed while some crucially important Late Roman excavations on the island remain unpublished.

The book is divided into eight sections. An introduction (ch. 1) is followed by a lucid presentation of the results of the field survey in the wider area (ch. 2). The salvage excavation of the site itself (an area ca. 50 x 50 m) comes next, with a detailed stratigraphic report for each trench (chs. 3–4). A structure of uncertain function (baptistery? refectory?) was partly uncovered producing early to mid seventh-century numismatic evidence, perhaps from the site’s abandonment period; to its northeast, remains of an almost square, three-aisled church (the south aisle perhaps a later addition) with large protruding apses were found (the coin finds suggest a construction date in the early to mid fifth century). This was replaced (ca. A.D. 500) by a larger structure, also three-aisled, with a polygonal apse, deep narthex (later subdivided), and a separate chapel(?) in the south aisle. No evidence of colonnades was found, nor were there any elements from the modest building’s presumably austere decoration.

The remaining chapters (5–7) examine the finds from both excavated buildings and the wider area (burials, including one in the apse, pottery, roof tiles, and coins). The conclusion (ch. 8) discusses the site in its wider context within the Maroni Valley, in relation to both the nearby anchorage at Zygi-Petrini, which has produced evidence from the same period (including a kiln manufacturing Late Roman 1 amphorae), and the much larger site excavated by M. Rautman at nearby Kalavasos, clearly the most important settlement in the area (with residential and industrial structures, and three sixth- to early seventh-century basilicas decorated with wall and floor mosaics, stucco, opus sectile, and imported marble).

One might have wished for a more detailed analysis of the architecture of the two successive churches. The originally twin-aisled configuration of the early structure is rather unusual in the context of Early Christian architecture on Cyprus, while the later church also presents certain uncommon features, such as the externally four-sided apse (cf. the apse of the small basilica excavated at Ayios Kononas on the island’s west coast) and the surprisingly deep narthex—the latter’s subsequent division into an inner and outer narthex also remains to be explained, for it is rare in this early period. And one might have wished for an index.

An important aspect of the evolution of Late Roman sites, namely their later history, is often neglected—as it is in the case of Maroni-Petrera too, but with good reason: the shallow stratigraphy, a result of the bulldozing, precluded any judgment. Yet several similar sites on the island, including Kalavasos, have yielded evidence for much-reduced but nevertheless continued occupation after the mid seventh century, and this should be taken into account in any future assessment of the history of this site too.

The importance of Maroni-Petrera obviously does not lie in the architectural or artistic value of the excavated finds but in the fact that it sheds considerable light on a type of settlement that is frequently overlooked, namely that of a small rural establishment, ignored by the written record, fulfilling both religious and agricultural functions (perhaps a monastery?). Late Roman archaeology on Cyprus has witnessed considerable growth in recent years; the number of important monographs published over the last decade testifies to this (e.g., J. Fejfer, Ancient Akamas [Aarhus 1995], reviewed in AJA 100 [1996] 812; P. Flourentzos, The Basilica of Alassa [Nicosia 1996]; G. Roux, La basilique de la Campanopetra [Paris 1998], reviewed in AJA 103 [1999] 723; M. Rautman, A Cypriot Village of Late Antiquity [Portsmouth, R.I. 2003]; T. Bekker-Nielsen, The Roads of Ancient Cyprus [Copenhagen 2004]). What is rather surprising is that most of these publications deal with rural rather than the numerous urban sites, and with issues concerning large areas or indeed the whole of the island.

Equally promising are the various field surveys with a considerable Late Roman component that are either currently taking place or have been concluded and await publication (e.g., Canadian Palaipaphos Survey Project, Troodos Archaeological Survey Project, and Polis Archaeological Project). One may, therefore, assert that the archaeology of rural Cyprus is relatively well developed for this period and is hardly currently a priority. But the Maroni experience, together with the Danish Akamas project and Rautman’s excavation and publication of the Kalavasos site, have paved the way for further and fruitful discussion of the core issues: the relationship between urban and rural settlements and the latter’s economic function; the causes and effects of their rise and of their apogee in the sixth century; and their fate after the mid seventh-century Arab raids. The results of Manning’s excavation should be read against those of the other projects, and in particular Rautman’s, for the two contemporaneous and neighboring sites complement each other and provide an excellent test case for Roman rural settlements in the Mediterranean Basin.

Tassos C. Papacostas
Prosopography of the Byzantine World
King’s College London
London WC2R 3DX
United Kingdom

Book Review of The Late Roman Church at Maroni Petrera. Survey and Salvage Excavations 1990–1997, by Sturt W. Manning et al.

Reviewed by Tassos C. Papacostas

American Journal of Archaeology Volume 110, Number 1 (January 2006)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1101.Papacostas

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