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Cyprus and the Balance of Empires: Art and Archaeology from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion

Cyprus and the Balance of Empires: Art and Archaeology from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion

Edited by Charles Anthony Stewart, Thomas W. Davis, and Annemarie Weyl Carr (American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeological Reports 20, Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute Monograph 5). Pp. xviii + 268, figs. 140, table 1. American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston 2014. $74.95. ISBN 978-0-89757-073-2 (cloth).

Reviewed by

The core of this volume, the fifth in the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) monograph series, comprises papers presented at the “Cyprus and the Balance of Empires” conference hosted by CAARI 7–9 January 2011. The goal of both the conference and the papers presented here is the exploration of “both the semi-independence of Cyprus and its semi-dependence on external powers” (xi) during the period from the reign of Justinian I until Richard Coeur de Lion. The chapters are mostly grouped around three time periods: Early Byzantine (fourth–seventh centuries C.E.), the period of the Arab-Byzantine condominium (seventh–10th centuries), and the 11th through 12th centuries.

The role of Cyprus as a crossroads throughout these periods is certainly not a new idea, but it is one that has often led scholars to approach Cyprus as if the island were some passive sponge that only received people, materials, and ideas from outside. The real importance of this volume is that it places Cyprus at the center of a discussion of local and regional issues. The authors have made a real effort to ask what it is that Cyprus contributed to the empires surrounding it. Sometimes, as in the case of the chapter by Papacostas (ch. 12), the authors take this question even further and explore the contrast of sources and influences from on/off the island, or within/without the island, and ask what our understanding of these contrasts does to our interpretations of these sources. An additional significant contribution is the way in which a number of the chapters, such as those by Rautman (ch. 4) and Metcalf (ch. 5), illustrate the diversity that existed within the island itself.

This volume contains 12 chapters ranging in length from 8 to 30 pages. All the chapters have been updated from their conference paper form, and yet the range in length does reflect a difference in the level of further polish and expansion of each. A number of the chapters are quite comprehensive and could have been published anywhere. At the same time, however, one of the briefest chapters is also one of the most interesting contributions: Kassianidou’s three-page description (ch. 10 [appx.]) of her analysis of a brass plate in the private collection of Andreas Pitsillides using PXRF presents exciting possibilities for future analysis of other objects, for those of metal and those of other materials. These possibilities seem especially relevant in terms of the present volume, considering the mention by Sophocleous (ch. 9) of the limits on our understanding of Cypriot icons as a result of the lack of such studies. As such, Kassianidou’s appendix and the preceding chapter on the material culture of everyday life by Parani (ch. 10) represent exactly what one hopes will come out of a good conference or even a chance encounter over coffee or otherwise on the balcony of CAARI itself: intellectual stimulation, the exchange of ideas, and perhaps even new collaborations that lead to further discovery.

The challenge of any edited volume, conference proceeding or otherwise, is always the level of uniformity of the book as a whole as well as the level of interaction among individual chapters. One area in which the editors have done a wonderful job with this particular volume is in the quality of the images throughout. A helpful general map and alphabetical key will also allow those readers unfamiliar with the place names to orient themselves, though one wishes that the editors had integrated the numbers from the map entries into the chapter texts where these sites are mentioned. One should also note the editors’ careful consideration of the “transliterations commonly used in library databases” (105 n. 1) and in assembling and standardizing the bibliography, which includes providing the fuller titles of many of the various sources cited (they explain the process on 205).

In other areas, however, one wishes that the editors would have taken a greater role. There are, for example, a number of missed opportunities within the volume where individual authors would have benefited from reading and interacting with one another’s chapters and in sharing some of the more recent bibliography. There are also certain sections, such as Procopiou’s wonderful summary of the historical context of the island during the seventh century (ch. 6), that could have served well as part of an introduction to the relevant section of the book focused on the end of the Early Byzantine period. Regarding uniformity across the volume, larger items such as the use of (or lack of) summary/concluding sections and smaller ones such as the various dates used for the period of the Arab-Byzantine condominium might have been smoothed out or explained. Finally, a number of the chapters would have benefited from a final proofreading and copy-editing session. This is especially apparent in the preface and in chapter 2, where the dual authorship causes some infelicities, and where the introductory section of the latter might have been better integrated into the rest of the chapter.

Still, as mentioned above, there is much of worth in this volume. Some of the chapters provide preliminary analyses of very significant, new archaeological sites revealing Early Byzantine churches at Agioi Pente of Yeroskipou and Katalymata ton Plakoton on the Akrotiri peninsula (chs. 1, 6). Another introduces the previously understudied Middle Byzantine church of the Panagia Pergaminiotissa (ch. 11). Others provide accessible introductions to our current state of knowledge regarding the study of Byzantine archaeology on Cyprus (ch. 2), the rise of Christianity (ch. 3), archaeological survey and rural settlement (ch. 4), the development of Byzantine architecture (ch. 8), and Cypriot icons prior to the 12th century (ch. 9). Still others provide good foundations for future work on the period of the Arab-Byzantine condominium (chs. 5, 7) and on Byzantine material culture (ch. 10) at the same time as providing readers with some potential directions in which this work might proceed.

James G. Schryver
Art History Discipline
University of Minnesota, Morris

Book Review of Cyprus and the Balance of Empires: Art and Archaeology from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion, edited by Charles Anthony Stewart, Thomas W. Davis, and Annemarie Weyl Carr

Reviewed by James G. Schryver

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 1 (January 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1201.Schryver

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