You are here

Archaeology and Urban Settlement in Late Roman and Byzantine Anatolia: Euchaïta-Avkat-Beyözü and Its Environment

July 2020 (124.3)

Book Review

Archaeology and Urban Settlement in Late Roman and Byzantine Anatolia: Euchaïta-Avkat-Beyözü and Its Environment

Edited by John Haldon, Hugh Elton, and James Newhard. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2018. Pp. xxxix + 377. $125. ISBN 978-1-1085-5775-7 (cloth).

Reviewed by

Central Anatolia is one of the lesser known parts of the classical and medieval worlds. Urbanism was late in coming to this inland region without ready access to the sea, and consequently archaeology there has lagged. This publication presents results of a survey of the town and surroundings of Euchaïta, a rather isolated location; prior to the fifth century CE the nearest city (polis) was Amaseia (modern Amasya), some 43 km distant. Unlike other settlements in Anatolia where excavation has revealed significant Medieval-period habitation, such as Ephesus, Tarsus, and Sagalassos, Euchaïta was never a major city. While it is debatable whether Euchaïta was an “average” town of Byzantine Anatolia—a claim made several times in the work—it is likely that the settlement was of a much lower order than others known from recent excavation, especially its nearest neighbor in this regard, the site of Amorium in Phrygia.

The main goal of the Avkat Archaeological Project (AAP), conducted from 2006–2012, was to add to our knowledge of the more common, smaller urbanized Late Antique and medieval settlements on the Anatolian plateau, especially the town of Euchaïta, from its founding around the third century CE through the Ottoman era. The survey leader, Byzantine historian Haldon, notes that Euchaïta is interesting for a number of reasons. Lying at 800 masl in the Mecitözü valley about 125 km inland from the Black Sea, thus far removed from access to convenient water transport, and not particularly favored in the fecundity of its landscape, the settlement never grew to be very large. Like many locations in the upland valleys of Anatolia, it was given city status only during the reign of Anastasius (491–518 CE), and only then primarily due to its role as the shrine of St. Theodore the Recruit, who tradition held was martyred at Amaseia during the final wave of Roman persecution of Christians in 306–311 CE.

The AAP’s survey permit restricted the collection of samples to a small area (20 km2), of which 9.11 km2 was intensively walked. Chapters detailing the historical and physical context of the site (Elton) and the survey methodology employed (Newhard) provide a good general view of the progress of the work. In addition to more traditional intensive survey collection methods, the AAP had as other aims the application of GIS and GPS and the use of remote sensing tools, such as satellite imagery, as well as their integration into the survey of using PDAs and laptops equipped with GIS in the field while the survey unfolded. The largest portion of the survey was focused primarily on modern villages, which were investigated for the incorporation of ancient remains into their structures. Additionally, in order to gain a sense of past settlement hierarchies, the team visited sites outside the permit area. Often these sites were selected based on conversation with local villagers and the local Jandarma, who are responsible for antiquities. There was apparently no formal ethnographic component nor standard interview practice, and these conversations seem to have been rather serendipitous.

The published results include a detailed discussion of the geomorphology of the region as well as the paleoenvironment (Warren Eastwood and Hakan Yiğitbaşioğlu) based on published cores from surrounding areas; no new cores were collected. Much of the discussion in this section of the book details the rise of intensive agriculture referred to in Turkey as the Beyşehir Occupation Phase, which began regionally as early as ca. 3200 BCE or as late as 650 BCE and ended as late as 1100 CE. Clearly more work needs to be done to refine these fuzzy boundaries, and the authors indicate that such data must likely await future research from the study area and its immediate surroundings.

The volume also includes a discussion of travel and communication around Euchaïta (Sarah Craft) in which the results were obtained through an investigation of previously published studies of roads, namely through the identification of Roman milestones on the ground and in publications, early modern and modern travel accounts, aerial photography, and satellite imagery, as well as the application of GIS “least cost” analysis. Ground-truthing was conducted on portions of the likely ancient paths along the main west-east axis, which led through (present-day) Çorum to İskip to the west of Euchaïta and thence to Amasya in the east. Segments of the major route from the south at Tavium and ending at Samsun (ancient Amisos) were apparently not explored on the ground, however, as they are included on a map (4.1) but not discussed in detail.

The bulk of the volume relies on previously published or archival historical material and published comparative studies. The ceramic finds (Joanita Vroom) are not numerous, as is to be expected in an area where little excavation has taken place and local coarse ware chronologies are lacking. Vroom’s presentation includes detailed discussion of dietary habits based on published finds from throughout Turkey and elsewhere.

A visit by the reviewer to the AAP website showed that it was functional at the time of this review, but as the survey is listed as a “past project,” it is of uncertain continued accessibility. The website indicates that the project itself has ended, a fact that was not entirely clear from the printed volume. As the printed book included few maps and illustrations in order to keep costs down, additional data are stored on the Open Context website. A perusal of this site shows many (georeferenced) photographs, mostly of architectural features within the study area. Although my search was not exhaustive, I did not see representative ceramics from the squares mapped on the site. As with much archaeology in the digital era there is a real concern here: Open Context is part of a nonprofit company (donations are solicited throughout the site) and this is cause for wariness about the longevity of access to the data. As archaeologists, we need to find better ways and standards to ensure data integrity and availability.

The editors stress that the results are preliminary and the presentation is in keeping with what one would expect in the first of a series of studies, offering good, detailed context but not many new discoveries. In part, this is the nature of the beast, as surveys (especially those with such a limited permit area) can tell us only so much without attendant careful excavation. This is not intended to undermine the value of the volume; there is much to applaud in the work, especially the efforts made to study the available data thoroughly. As most readers appreciate, permits for foreign-led excavation in Turkey have become increasingly rare, to say nothing of the cost that such fieldwork entails. On the whole, the volume offers much of interest to those who study Late Antique and medieval provincial Anatolia.

Michael J. Decker
Department of History
University of South Florida

Book Review of Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth, Edited by John Haldon, Hugh Elton, and James Newhard
Reviewed by Michael J. Decker
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 124, No. 3 (July 2020)
Published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1243.Decker

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.