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Wool and Rubble Walls
Domestic Archaeology in the Medieval Peloponnese
Liminal Fabrics: Furnishing Textiles in Byzantium and Early Islam
Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.
March 26, 2015
When Giorgio Vasari set out the rules of art for the western tradition, he established a
hierarchy of fine and applied arts that privileges painting and sculpture for their ideational
separation from ordinary life and production. Applied or decorative arts, on the other hand, are
seen as inferior because of their utilitarian engagement with daily life. Diego Velásquez exploits
this hierarchy in his painting The Spinners (1657), challenging the Renaissance with Baroque
contradictions (fig. 1). A bright elevated space in the background of the painting stages the
elevation of textiles from applied to fine art. The textile hangs like a painting within the painting
and is studied by three aristocratic ladies, well dressed and liberally educated, who admire the
narrative derived from Ovid. The mortal Arachne challenges Athena to a spinning contest in the
textile, while Velásquez challenges Renaissance aesthetics in his painting. One of the three
viewing ladies turns away from the textile, looks straight to the viewer, and acknowledges
another party of women in the foreground, who are engaged in the the physical manufacture of
cloth. They are corporeal, indecent, members of a lower class toiling behind the scenes to
produce the rarified textile staged as a work of art. Velázquez problematizes the hierarchy of
crafts imbedded within the art system and forces the viewer to confront the ignoble lower class
of makers through a new realism. The painting "theorizes the painterly performance," writes
Giles Knox, and offers Renaissance art an exit towards a more materialist reality in the
foreground.1 The spinners in all their corporeality are a much more difficult subject whose
painterly execution proves the artist's mastery. Since the economic prominence of Florence was
based on its wool economy, it is appropriate that Velázquez critiques Florentine humanism with
the weapons of craft.
Although not explicitly, Velázquez also provokes the scholarly tradition on Byzantine textiles
dominated by objects of exquisite quality that are framed and exhibited as museum pieces. Like
the ladies of aristocratic education who read Ovid, we ascend the podium of museological
distance and admire the exquisite beauty of objects like the Hestia Tapestry at the Dumbarton
1 G. Knox, The Late Paintings of Velázquez: Theorizing Painterly Performance (Farnham, 2009)
Oaks Museum.2 Velázquez invites us to lower our gaze to the ground and search for the makers
of textiles, contextualize their labor inside their domestic spaces and examine the landscapes
that procured raw materials and energies of production. Anthropologists and archaeologists
have also invited us to lower our gaze towards entangled realities, taskscapes, and symmetrical
materialities.3 During the 1960s, archaeologists rejected the culture-based antiquarianism of
their profession and devised a new field of processual or New Archaeology to privilege social
processes over the fetishized object. Partnering with the emerging discipline of material culture,
archaeology resisted Vasari's hierarchy of object, while partnering with the social and
environmental sciences, seeking to illuminate human processes rather than to unearth
exhibition-worthy artifacts.4 The pioneering Minnesota Messenia Expedition of 1962 developed
the methodology of pedestrian surface survey through which New Archaeology could
accomplish its promised processualist objectives.5 Dominated by older traditions of culturebased studies, the study of Byzantium has not wholeheartedly adopted landscape archaeology
but still seeks physical treasures like the 150,000 textiles excavated in Egypt during the last
century.6 But even the most careful excavation does not typically produce textiles in context.
Cloth is biodegradable and survives only in arid soils, which is why so many of our extant fabrics
come from Egypt. By mapping the location of settlements across time, processual
archaeologists were able to discern disruptions and continuities in the landscape that are
connected to great shifts of production processes. The peninsula of the Peloponnese in Greece
has benefited from the greatest attention of landscape archaeology, with no less than twenty
pedestrian surveys carried out between the 1962 Minnesota Messenia Expedition and 2016.7
Collectively, the pedestrian surveys of the last 54 years have provided a most thorough profile of
any medieval landscape and corroborate the well-documented historical processes of settlement
2 Hestia Polyolbos Textile, BZ.1929.1, Byzantine Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Museum
3 I. Hodder, Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships between Humans and Things
(Chichester, 2012), T. Ingold, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture (London,
2013), B. Olsen, “Symmetrical Archaeology,” in Archaeological Theory Today, ed. I. Hodder, 2nd
ed., 208-228 (Cambridge, 2012).
4 C. Renfrew and P. Bahn, Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice (New York, 2000), 39,
D. Hicks, “The Material‐Cultural Turn: Event and Effect,” in The Oxford Handbook of Material
Culture Studies, ed. D. Hicks and M. C. Beaudry (Oxford, 2010), 25-98.
5 W. McDonald and G. R. Rapp, Jr. eds., The Minnesota Messenia Expedition. Reconstructing a
Bronze Age Regional Environment (Minneapolis, 1972).
nucleation during the Middle and Late Byzantine periods. Dispersed hamlets were abandoned
as the rural population moved into higher elevations congregating around hilltops. Many forces
contributed to the emergence of the medieval settlement pattern in Greece, but most important
is the foundation of a new form of connectivity through the mountains that is associated with the
seasonal movements of animals and the exploitation of pastures (fig. 2).8 The archaeology of
medieval Greek pastoralism, thus, provides insights in the production of wool. The rubble walls
of the medieval Greek village provide evidence for the organic processes that took place within
their walls but also explains the very reason for its construction. Between 1990 and 2000, the
Morea Project conducted an architectural survey of over 3,000 houses from the medieval to
early modern period in the northwestern Peloponnese. It identified the location of 125 medieval
villages and surveyed approximately 800 houses from the medieval period (9th to 17th
centuries).9 This extensive database of rubble walls reveal an ecology, urbanism, and
architectural setting for the production of woolen textiles. This inorganic archaeological evidence
6 T. Thomas, “Coptic and Byzantine Textiles Found in Egypt: Corpora, Collections, and
Scholarly Perspectives,” in Egypt in the Byzantine World ed. R. S. Bagnall (New York, 2007),
137-156. Timothy E. Gregory outlined the agenda for Byzantine landscape archaeology in 1981,
but only a few have followed (Pamela Armstrong, Joanita Vroom, Archie Dunn, Guy D. R.
Sanders, William R. Caraher, David Petty grew, Fotini Kondyli, etc.), T. E. Gregory,
“Archaeological Survey in the Study of Byzantine Historical Geography,” in XVI. Internationaler
Byzantinistenkongress, Wien, 4.-9. Oktober 1981, JÖB 31 (1981) Beiheft: 2.2. The absence of
landscape archaeology is striking in surveys such as A. E. Laiou ed., The Economic History of
Byzantium (Washington, D.C., 2008), L. James, ed. A Companion To Byzantium (Chichester,
2010), P. Stephenson ed., The Byzantine World (London, 2010).
7 In the Peloponnese: Minnesota Messenia Expedition, Five Rivers Area Survey, Pylos Regional
Archaeological Project, Southern Argolid Exploration Project, Peneios River Survey, BerbatiLimnes Survey, Methana Survey, Western Achaia Survey, Lakonia Survey, Eastern Korinthian
Archaeological Survey, Nemea Valley Archaeological Project, Morea Project, Kleonai Survey,
Western Argolid Regional Project. In the rest of Greece: Asea Valley Survey, Troodos
Archaeological and Environmental Survey Project, Boeotia Survey, Eastern Boeotia
Archaeological Survey, Ancient Thisve/Byzantine Kastorion Survey. For theoretical
considerations of field survey and medieval Greece, see J. Rosser, “A Research Strategy for
Byzantine Archaeology,” BS/EB 6 (1979), 152-166, D. W. Rupp, “Problems in Byzantine Field
Reconnaissance: A Non-Specialist’s View,” BS/EB 13 (1986), 177-178, and T. E. Gregory,
“Intensive Archaeological Survey and Its Place in Byzantine Studies,” BS/EB 13 (1986), 155175. For a synthetic reconsideration of Byzantine history based on surface survey, see J. Bintliff,
The Complete Archaeology of Greece from Hunt-Gatherers to the 20th Century AD (Chichester,
2012), 381-435. Bintliff was the director of the Boeotia Survey.
will be correlated with the scant textual sources that testify to the exploitation of wool, such as in
the carpet that would have once stood under the dome of Emperor Basil's Nea Ekklesia of 850.
Danelis' woolen gifts to the emperor, from the same story, will be read as ideological
manifestations of a new woolen exploitation. Few Peloponnesian textiles from this period survive
given the volatile history of the region and the fragility of the material. An epitaphios at the
Victoria and Albert Museum gives a faint glimpse of this region's productivity when the textile
was commissioned (dated to 1406/7) and before it was taken to Naples, and then to Sicily.10
The emergence of a new medieval agrarian landscape in the northwestern Peloponnese
corresponds with the region's reconquest by the Byzantine empire in the 9th century, particularly
after the reconquest of Patras. The Life of Basil is one of the few sources that thematizes the
reconquest of the northwestern Peloponnese through the story of the Widow Danielis. The
relationship between the provincial landowner and the emperor climaxes with Danielis' trip to
Constantinople and the gifts that she presents to Basil. The description of the gifts, highly
embellished by the literary flare of chronicles, makes specific reference to woolens. The
Crusader conquest of the Peloponnese in 1206 connected this region with Latin clienteles,
whose archives survive better. After considering the material evidence from archaeological
survey, we will turn to the sexual evidence that corroborate the centrality of wool production in
the medieval economy of the Peloponnese.
During the 1960s, the Minnesota Messenia Expedition (MME) documented the
nucleation of settlements in the mountainous hinterland of the region. Without the expertise of a
8 G. D. R. Sanders and I. K. Whitbread, “Central Places and Major Roads in the Peloponnese.”
BSA 85 (1990), 333-361, K. Kourelis, “Zaraka Surrounded: The Archaeology of Settlements in
the Peloponnesian Countryside,” in The Cistercian Monastery of Zaraka, Greece, ed. S.
Campbell (Toronto, forthcoming). For methodological development in the archaeology of
pastoralism globally, see W. Honeychurch and C. A. Makarewicz, “The Archaeology of Pastoral
Nomadism,” Annual Review of Anthropology 45 (2016), 341-359.
9 F. A. Cooper, K. Kourelis, H. B. Foster, M. Coulton, and J. D. Alchermes, Houses of the
Morea: Vernacular Architecture of the Northwest Peloponnesos (1205-1955) (Athens, 2003); K.
Kourelis "Landmarks of Rural Archaeology: Medieval Settlements in the Northwestern
Peloponnese," PhD Theis, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 2003).
10 W. T. Woodfin, "Epitaphios of Nicholas Eudaimonoioannes," in Byzantium: Faith and Power
(1261-1557), ed. H. Evans (New York, 2004), 316-317, no. 190.
medieval ceramicist to analyze the project's pottery, MME relied on the historical sources to
explain this phenomenon. Peter Topping concluded that this phenomenon represents a
demographic retreat dated to the 14th century.11 Annales historian Elene Antoniade-Bibicou
arrived at the same conclusion for deserted villages throughout Greece in her analysis of the
textual sources.12 Both interpretations relied on the assumption that inhabitation in the plains is
preferable to the mountains (as was the case in both the ancient and modern periods),
replicating older romantic notions that the mountains were simply sites of refuge, retreat, and
resistance. The MME team revisited their hypothesis in the excavations of Nichoria, which
revealed evidence for a vibrant Byzantine village.13 In 1979, a decade after the study of
Messenia, the Southern Argolid Survey improved methods of collection and integrated
ethnographic and geological analysis. Observing a similar phenomenon on nucleation, the
Southern Argolid Project revised the theories of social and economic decline. The survey
determined that decline first occurred in the Hellenistic and Roman periods (previously
considered to be peeks of cultural life) and that the greatest prosperity in the region occurred in
the Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods. Concurring with new archaeological discoveries in
Italy, the Southern Argolid Survey debunked historical narratives of decline adopted by Edward
Gibbon and Enlightenment historians.14
Economic growth and increase of sites occurred between the third and 6th centuries. Some
classical or Hellenistic sites were re-occupied, while additional sites were founded afresh. The
economic development of the Argolid during the 5th and 6th centuries is consistent with a
generally prosperous scenario emerging from the archaeological record of the eastern
Mediterranean. The Argolid Survey concurred with earlier excavations that all recognizable
inhabitants sites disappeared between the 7th and 9th centuries, the second Dark Age. The
11 P. Topping, “The Post-Classical Documents,” in The Minnesota Messenia Expedition:
Reconstructing a Bronze Age Regional Environment ed. W. McDonald and G. R. Rapp, Jr.
(Minneapolis, 1972), 64-80.
12 E. Antoniade-Bibicou, Recherches sur les douanes à Byzance. L’“octava”, le “kommerkion”
et les commerciaires, Cahiers des Annales, v. 20 (Paris, 1963).
13 W. McDonald, W. D. E. Coulson, and J. Rosser, Excavations at Nichoria in Southwest
Greece, v. 3, Dark Age and Byzantine Occupation (Minneapolis,1983).
14 For a summary of this reappraisal, see R. Hodges and D. B. Whitehouse, Mohammed,
Charlemagne and the Origins of Europe: Archaeology and the Pirenne Thesis (Ithaca,1982), 5476.
medieval re-inhabitation of the landscape began in the 9th century and continued into the mid14th century. The proliferation of medieval sites shared common characteristics in land use and
site distribution. The medieval period witnessed the appearance of many new sites consisting of
nucleated villages and small hamlets. They were located in the inland valleys with noted
preference for the headwaters rather than the shores. Timidity in the choice of location was
interpreted to mean a conscious concern for concealment and security offered by natural
geography. By incorporating geological core samples in the analysis, the Southern Argolid
discovered that the medieval period precipitated soil erosion. New farmers, perhaps not familiar
with the methods of soil conservation, were less careful than their Late Roman predecessors.
They left mudflows, cleared brush and did not repair terrace walls, all contributing to cumulative
soil erosion.15 The geological evidence for soil erosion illustrates the intensification of sheep and
goat husbandry. Michael Jameson, the principal director of the Southern Argolid Survey,
developed methodologies of cultural ecology, a field developed by his colleague Robert Netting,
and incorporated anthropologist in the research. The concerted analysis of village ecologies in
the 1970s, discovered a harmonious antagonism between farmers and shepherds. Agriculture in
the Peloponnesian hinterland depended on strategies of intensive soil protection in the form of
terracing. Free ranging livestock, in contrast, aggravated erosion by dislodging the plant life that
retained the soil from rolling down the slopes.16 The increase in nucleated settlements coupled
by the deterioration of terraces and soil retentions in the Argolid, therefore, indicates an increase
dependence on animal husbandry and the associated trades of wool.
During the 18th and early-19th century, the northwestern Peloponnese was an epicenter of
wood manufacture for export. The British traveler William Martin Leake quantified the intensity of
wool production in 1805: “about three-fourths of the wool produced in the district is exported, the
remainder is wrought at home into coarse cloaks, or into carpeting, or the furniture of beds and
sofas.”17 Illustrations from 19th-century travel literature show the domestic use of wool in the
distinctive shepherd capes (fig. 3). Before the introduction of petroleum based polymers, wool
was the best water-repellent material and in great demand. Working with the Southern Argolid
15 M. H. Jameson, C. N. Runnels, and T. H. van Andel, A Greek Countryside. The Southern
Argolid from Prehistory to the Present Day (Stanford, 1994); C. Runnels and T. H. van Andel.
1987. “The Evolution of Settlement in the Southern Argolid, Greece: An Economic Explanation.”
Hesperia 56 (1987) 303-33; T. H. van Andel, C. Runnels and K. O. Pope, “Five Thousand Years
of Land Use and Abuse,” Hesperia 55 (1986), 103-128.
16 A. T. Grove and O. Rackham, The Nature of Mediterranean Europe: An Ecological History
(New Haven, 2001).
17 W. R. Leake, Travels in the Morea (London, 1830), v. 3, 18.
Survey, anthropologist couple Harold Koster and Joan Bouza Koster recorded the traditional lifecycle of a Peloponnesian shepherd. The Koster's lived for 23 months with a community of
pastoralists at the village of Didyma between 1972 and 1975.18 Bouza Koster, moreover, went
beyond data collection and introduced the craft of traditional Greek weaving at the Tyler School
of Art in Philadelphia, using a loom that she imported directly from Greece.19 Their study
produced the first ethnographic record of the social life of a pastoral village and the precise
transhumant movement through the landscape. Committed to education and social justice
(rather than scholarly production) the Kosters continued their craft-based research as sheep
farmers and as teachers at SUNY Broome Community College in upstate New York.
The Liverpool Methana survey (1981-1987) complemented the lessons of the Southern Argolid
and the marriage between surface survey and ethnoarchaeology.20 As in the case of the
Argolid, the archaeological material from Methana contradicts the literary sources, which
describe the 7th to 15th centuries as a period of demographic decline and cultural hiatus. The
general picture shows abandonment of coastal sites during the 7th century complemented by
inland relocation. Expansion of settlement occurred after the 9th century. The Methana Survey
isolated three medieval villages consisting of cisterns and house remains. Between 1991 and
1995, the Western Achaia Survey focused on the Alissos-Therianou plateau around the villages
of Kamenitsa and Ano Alissos, southwest of Patras. The medieval material from this intensive
survey (mostly ceramic vessels and roof tiles) shows intensive nucleation beginning in the
Middle Byzantine period.21 Hamish and Mary Forbes, followed the model of ethnoarchaeology
18 H. A. Koster, “The Ecology of Pastoralism in Relation to Changing Patterns of Land Use in
the Northeast Peloponnese.” Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1976) 26.
Koster (1977) 243, 265; H. A. Koster, "The Thousand Year Road,” Expedition 19, no. 1 (1976),
19 J. B. Koster, "From Spindle to Loom: Weaving in the Southern Argolid,” Expedition 19, no. 1
(1976), 29-39; “‘Nobody Weaves Here Anymore?’: Hand Textile Production in the Southern
Argolid,” in Contingent Countryside. Settlement, Economy, and Land Use in the Southern
Argolid Since 1700, ed. S. B. Sutton (Stanford, 2000), 290-317.
20 C. Mee and H. Forbes eds., A Rough and Rocky Place: The Landscape and Settlement
History of the Methana Peninsula, Greece (Liverpool, 1997)
21 C. G/ Makrypoulias, K. Varalexi, and A. Koskinas, “History, Archaeology, and Medieval
Greece: A Case Study from Western Achaia,” Νέέές προσέγγίέσέίς στη μέσαίωνίκηέ καί
νέοέτέρη Ελλαέδα, 1-3 Μαίΐέου 1998,
from the Southern Argolid Survey, in the study of Methana's ethnography. 22 Forbes' magisterial
volume on archaeological ethnography encapsulated the collaborative lessons of this process
and filled a scholarly vacuum created by the fact Koster's dissertation that was unfortunately
never published.23 Through the work of this pioneering generation of ethnoarchaeologists, we
can project the particularities of medieval wool production practices in the Middle Ages.
The British Laconia Survey (1983-1988) had a distinctive medieval focus with Pamela
Armstrong studying the pottery and Guy D. R. Sanders mapping the architectural remains.24 The
first recognizable material for the Middle Byzantine period is dated to 900 with an increase in
settlements during the last two decades of the 11th century. In general, Byzantine sites seem to
have been nucleated rather than dispersed. With its more advanced expertise in ceramic
chronologies, the Laconia Survey was able to refine the internal periodization and argue for an
settlement boom preceding the Latin occupation. The increase in transhumance and
pastoralism coincides with the maintenance of road systems and bridges. The Laconia survey
connected the maintenance of a bridge with three documented settlements.25
The Ohio State Eastern Corinthia Survey (EKAS) (1997-2003) was directed by a Byzantine
specialist and succeeded in fine-tuning the developmental sequence of hamlets and villages in
the Corinthia. The project innovated in the theory of artifact collection and analysis and
generated additional field projects in Kythera and Cyprus.26 EKAS clarified an internal
differentiation between and early Middle-Byzantine and a late Middle-Byzantine to LateByzantine archaeological profile. Accordingly, the settlement pattern of the Middle Byzantine
recovery of the 9th century featured small dispersed hamlets, which were abandoned for
22 H. A. Forbes, “Turkish and Modern Methana,” in A Rough and Rocky Place: The Landscape
and Settlement History of the Methana Peninsula, Greece, ed. C. Mee and H. A. Forbes
(Liverpool, 1997), 101-117; The Agrarian Economy of the Ermionidha around 1700: An
Ethnohistorical Reconstruction," in Contingent Countryside. Settlement, Economy, and Land
Use in the Southern Argolid Since 1700, ed. S. B. Sutton (Stanford, 2000), 41-70.
23 H. A. Forbes, Meaning and Identity in a Greek Landscape: An Archaeological Ethnography
24 W. Cavanagh, J. Crouwel, R.W.V. Catling, and G. Shipley, eds., Continuity and Change in a
Greek Rural Landscape. The Laconia Survey (London, 1996, 2002).
25 P. Armstrong, W. G. Cavanagh and G. Shipley. 1992. “Crossing the River: Reflections on
Routes and Bridges in Laconia from the Archaic to Byzantine Periods,” BSA 87 (1992), p. 300.
centralized nucleated villages in the 12th and 13th centuries.27 Targeted explorations at Isthmia
and Agios Vasilios tied the broader regional perspective into specific settlements.28 Lita Gregory
carried out ethnographic research with a focus on cemeteries, processes of abandonment, and
cultural resource management.29
The Nemea Valley Archaeological Project (NVAP) (1984-1987) documented intensive settlement
and land use between the 12th and 14th centuries.30 In John Cherry’s graph showing the total
number of sites, the Byzantine period contains the greatest number of components, followed by
the classical and Roman periods in descending order. The medieval sites represent continuous
material occupation throughout the Byzantine and Frankish periods. . Effie Athanassopoulos,
26 T. F. Tartaron, T. E. Gregory, D. J. Pullen, J. S. Noller, R. M. Rothaus, J. L. Rife, L.
Tzortzopoulou-Gregory, R. Schon, W. R. Caraher, D. K. Pettegrew, and D. Nakassis, “The
Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey: Integrated Methods for a Dynamic Landscape,”
Hesperia 75 (2006), 453-523
27 T. E. Gregory, “People and Settlements of the Northeastern Peloponnese in the Late Middle
Ages: An Archaeological Exploration,” in Viewing the Morea: Land and People in the Late
Medieval Peloponnese, ed. S. E. J. Gerstel, pp., (Washington, D.C., 2013), 277-308.
28 J. L. Rife, Isthmia IX: The Roman and Byzantine Graves and Human Remains (Princeton,
2012), P. N. Kardulias, T. E. Gregory, and M. A. Dann, “Re-creating a Frankish Town: A
Fourteenth-Century Settlement in Southern Greece is Reborn Using Computer Imaging,”
Archaeology 50 (May/June 1997), 54-58.
29 L. Tzortzopoulou-Gregory,“Remembering and Forgeting: The Relationship between Memory
and Abandonment of Graves in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Greek Cemeteries,” in The
Abandoned Countryside: (Re)Settlement in the Archaeological Narrative of Post-Classical
Greece, ed. K. Kourelis and W. R. Caraher, The International Journal of Historical Archaeology
14:2, 285-301, “Coevolution of Environment and Culture in the 21st Century: The Impact of
Modern Development and the Role of Cultural Resource Management (CRM) in Greece,” in
Medieval and Post-Medeival Greece: The Corfu Papers, ed. J. Bintliff and H. Stöger (Oxford,
30 J. C. Wright, J. F. Cherry, J. L. Davis, E. Mantzourani, S. B. Sutton, and R. F. Sutton Jr., “The
Nemea Valley Archaeological Project: A Preliminary Report,” Hesperia 59 (1990), 616-617, 644645.
who studied the medieval remains, concludes that the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries constitute a
period of prosperity with an increasing number of dispersed settlements. In the 14th century,
there is evidence of decline; the dispersed settlements were replaced by a single hilltop
nucleated town of Polyphengi.31 Like Southern Argolid, and Methana, NVAP deployed
ethnoarchaeology to understand living practices. Susan B. Sutton's ethnography in Nemea
complemented the collaborative work of the Kosters, the Forbes, and the Gregorys in adjacent
regions.32 Susan Alcock studied ancient Phlius in the Nemea Valley and established its
occupational chronology. Continuous prosperity between the classical and Late Roman periods
was followed by the typical hiatus of the 7th- to 9th-century Dark Ages. Reoccupation occurred
sometime between the 10th and early-13th centuries. A medieval settlement grew in the ancient
site but it was concentrated at a different location. Interestingly enough, the acropolis of the
ancient city was left uninhabited and used as a graveyard. The settlement proper developed on
the lower slopes southwest of the acropolis hill.33 Although published in preliminary reports or
dissertations, Athanassopoulos' forthcoming monograph on Nemea's medieval landscape
clarifies this cultural landscape. More recently, Athanassopoulos has integrated survey material
with the stratigraphic excavations in Nemea carried out by UC Berkeley.34 MME, Southern
Argolid, Methana, EKAS, and NVAP are only five of over 20 surface surveys carried out in
Greece during the last half century. They were selected for their targeted approach to the
medieval period and their processual approach to ethnocarchaeology and set the model or other
31 E. Athanassopoulos, “Intensive Survey and Medieval Rural Settlement: The Case of Nemea,”
Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1993), vi, 155, 306-322; “Landscape
Archaeology of Medieval and Pre-Modern Greece: The Case of Nemea,” in Aegean Strategies.
Studies of Culture and Environment on the European Fringe ed. P. N.. Kardulias and M. T.
Shutes (Lanham, 1997), 79-105.
32 S. Sutton, “What is a ‘Village’ in a Nation of Migrants?” Journal of Modern Greek Studies 6
(1988), pp. 187-215.
33 S. E. Alcock, “Urban Survey and the Polis of Phlius,” Hesperia 60 (1991), 430, 459.
34 E. Athanassopoulos, Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside: Results of the
Nemea Valley Archaeological Project (Princeton, 2017); E. Athanassopoulos and K. Shelton,
"The Medieval Deposits from the Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea, Southern Greece,” XIth
Congress AIECM3 on Medieval and Modern Period Mediterranean Ceramics, October 19-24,
related surveys in the Peloponnese, at Pylos,35 Geraki,36 Lavda, Astros,37 Sikyon,38 and
As in most major shifts of settlement patterns, multiple forces contributed to the nucleation of
settlements into hilltop sites during the Middle and Late Byzantine period, as amply documented
by pedestrian surveys. Feudalization and strategies of defensibility have had a major impact, but
the intensification of husbandry seems to share in the process of site selection. The Minnesota
Archaeological Research in the Western Peloponnese continued the MME's investigative
tradition in the field of architecture. The Morea Project (1990-2002) surveyed all visible medieval
villages in the provinces of Achaia and Eleia as part of a broader survey on vernacular
architecture. The village survey produced evidence for the production of wool and revealed the
architectural framework within that domestic production took place.40
The medieval settlements of the Morea Project were located in an average altitude of 500 m
above sea level, halfway between the valleys below and the mountains above (fig. 4). This
intermediary location allowed for seasonal transhumance to the plains during winter and the
forests during the summer. Through terracing, each village could produce sufficient grains for
their consumption within a day's walk from the village. The herding of sheep and goats,
however, took the villagers in longer journeys that lasted for many days. Temporary structures
35 S. E. Gerstel, “Medieval Messenia,” in Sandy Pylos. An Archaeological History from Nestor
to Navarino (Austin, 1998), 210-242.
36 A.-M. Simatou and R. Christodoulopoulou, “Παρατηρηέσέίς στον μέσαίωνίκοέ οίκίσμοέ του
Γέρακίέου,” DChAE 15 (1989-1990), 67-88.
37 Y. C. Goester, “The Plain of Astros: A Survey,” Pharos 1 (1993), 39-112; “The Landscape of
Lavda,” Pharos 1 (1993), 201-208.
38 Y. Lolos, Land of Sikyon (Princeton, 2011); Y. Lolos, B. Gourley, and D. R. Stewart, “The
Sikyon Survey Project: A Blueprint For Urban Survey,” Journal of Mediterranean Archeology 20
39 J. C. Marchand, "Kleonai, the Corinth-Argos Road, and the 'Axis of History'," Hesperia 78
40 K. Kourelis, "Medieval Settlements" and "Catalogue of Citadels" in Houses of the Morea:
Vernacular Architecture of the Northwest Peloponnesos (1205-1955) (Athens, 2003), 52-79.
(kalyvia) accommodated the winter and summer pastures accordingly. The villages were sited at
location that maximized the source of water in natural springs. Coupled by the steep inclination
of the slopes, the water was converted into energy for milling grain and fulling wool. Fulling mills
were used for the first stage of processing wool. The ethnoarchaeologists of the Southern
Argolid Project photographed the fulling mills as still in use in the early 1970s. A line of
interconnected wooden barrels collected the water at its source and channeled it into a rapid
waterfall. Mill runs and channels from the medieval settlement of Kastro tis Orias illustrates the
harnessing of water energy for that purpose (fig. 5).41 Such installations were in place through
the late medieval period. A 17th-century fulling mill survives in Dimitsana and has been
reconstructed as part of the installations of the Open-Air Water Power Museum.42
In addition to the exploitation of natural water energy, the medieval settlements of the Morea
were located on hilltops that afforded visual connectivity through the valleys. A small tower at the
center or peak of each village gave additional height to such visual connectivity. Mapping the
visual vantage points from village to village illustrates continuous connectivity between the coast
and the tallest mountains. Although certainly used for defense, this visual network maintained
control over pasture lands in the distant commons. Ethnoarchaeologists have also illustrated
how the pastoral landscape was not only connected visually but also through the audible
register of bells hanging around the necks of the animals.43 The medieval shepherd villages of
the Peloponnese range in size from 15 to 300 houses. All houses share a common typology.
They are modular long houses ca. 5 m in width that extend longitudinally down the slope in
multiple units (10-30 m) (fig. 6).44 Constructed by dry wall masonry and quarried locally, the
houses are organized along terraces. Sunken into the limestone, each domestic space contains
at least two contiguous levels under one roof. The lower level would have been used for the
"domesticated" animals. Sheep, goats, and humans would have lived under the same roof as
41 Koster, "From Spindle to Loom."
42 Ai. Bakourou, “Δημητσαένα,” ArchDelt 43 B’1 (1988 ), 138-139, S. Papadopoulos and
A. Louvi eds., The Open-Air Water Power Museum (Athens, 1997). This was the second
pioneering museum of the Piraeus Group Cultural Foundation that now includes seven
museums throughout Greece: the Silk Museum in Soufli, the Open-Air Water-Power Museum in
Dimitsana, Arkadia, the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil in Sparta, the Museum of
Industrial Olive Oil Production in Lesvos (Aghia Paraskevi), Lesvos island, the Rooftile and
Brickworks Museum N. & S. Tsalapatas in Volos, the Museum of Marble Crafts in Pyrgos, Tinos
island, and the Museum of the Environment in Stymfalia, Corinthia.
43 P. Panopoulos, “Animal Bells as Symbols: Sound and Hearing ina Greek Island Village,”
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9 (2003), 639-656.
was the case in medieval "unitary" houses throughout Europe.45 Particularly during the cold
winter months, cohabitation with livestock would have utilized the animals for their body heat.46
Although not a single thread of wool survives in the settlements of the northwestern
Peloponnese, it is clear that the very existence of these new villages relied on the pastoral
necessities of wool manufacture. The villages were sited in locations that maximized the
requirements of herding wool and sheep and the processing of the material. Each house,
moreover, would not only house the domestic industry of textiles but the very raw material of its
production, the animals. If we take the liberty of projecting the ethnographic data collected
during the 19th and 20th centuries back into the Middle Ages, we might even challenge certain
assumptions such as the gender of domestic industries. Hamish Forbes has illustrated that in
the pre-modern traditional village, shepherds were not predominantly male. Women owned and
herded sheep and goats, which they controlled as dowries.47 The lack of mortar or ashlar stones
make it clear that no professional mason was necessary for their construction. The settlements
were built and repaired communally, including the contribution of women. As folklorist Robert
Saint George noted on 17th-century New England, the lack of craft specialization (building
versus textile) in premodern communities assured social cohesion and independence.48
Operating as a family unit, men, women, and children would have participated in the making of
both rubble walls and woolen textiles.
Reflecting on the survival of the Byzantine Empire in 1415, the scholar Plethon called for textile
independence in the Peloponnese. The local production of wools, flax, silk and cotton, argued
44 K. Kourelis, "The Rural House in the Medieval Peloponnese: An Archaeological
Reassessment of Byzantine Domestic Architecture,” in Archaeology in Architecture: Studies in
Honor of Cecil L. Striker, ed. J. J. Emerick and D. Deliyannis (Mainz, 2005), 119-129.
45 J. Chapelot and R. Fossier, The Village and House in the Middle Ages, trans. H. Cleere
(Berkeley, 1985), 243-244.
46 This practice continued into the early modern period. Animals and humans were segregated
into two different levels during the 19th century but separated only by wooden boards.
47 Forbes, Meaning and Identity in a Greek Landscape,
48 R. B. St. George, "‘Set Thine House in Order’: The Domestication of the Yeomanry in
Seventeenth-Century New England,” in Common Places: Readings in American Vernacular
Architecture (Athens, Ga., 1986), 336-364.
Plethon in an oration to Emperor Manuel II, would lead to self-reliance and a healthier polity.49
Florence political and economic ascendancy was built on wool manufacture, leading ultimately
to the Renaissance. Plethon indirectly refers to the economic threat from Florence "beyond the
Ionian Sea," which imported wool "from the Atlantic Ocean" (from England) and processed it in
its factories. Plethon's friend, the cardinal Bessarion, noted the technological advantages that
Florence was making and inspected the more efficient use of water energy in 1844. Bessarion
suggested that the Peloponnese was lagging behind the West in textile technologies. In his letter
to Constantine IX Palaiologos, Bessarion urges the Despot of Mystras to incorporate innovations
he observed through Italy, France and the Netherlands.50 One such advancement would be the
wooden contraption that mechanically beats fabrics. Reference to fulling mills appears in
Tuscany as early as 983. Certainly by the 13th century, they had become a standard feature in
France. Lynn White has argued that the western Middle Ages would not have been possible
without advancements in mill technology.51 The significance of mills for the economy of Mystras
is marked in no less conspicuous place than an inscription carved on the columns of a church.
Vrontochi in Mystras owned a mill in Moundritsa, a village no less than 85 km to the northwest.
Ownership of the mill was sanctioned to the monastery by a 1322 imperial chrysobull carved on
the marble columns of the Katholikon.52 The medieval village of Moundritsa was investigated by
the Morea Project. It was located at Mikro Kastro near the village Graika. The village was
burned in 1826 and offers no physical remains for inspection.53
The archaeology of Byzantine mills is at its infancy with most of the dated examples coming
from northern Greece. Although few Middle Byzantine mills survive, they are frequently listed in
textual sources as a standard feature of any village or estate.54 Regulations about mills are
49 C. M. Woodhouse, George Gemistos Plethon: The Last of the Hellenes (Oxford, 1986), 106,
PG 160, 837 A-D.
50 A. G Keller. 1955. “A Byzantine Admirer of ‘Western’ Progress: Cardinal Bessarion,”
Cambridge Historical Journal 11 (1955), 343-8
51 L. T. White, Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford, 1962), 79-134.
52 G. Millet, “Inscriptions byzantines de Mistra,” BCH 23 (1899), 115-118.
53 Kourelis, "Landmarks of Rural Archaeology," 274, Site No. 32. The site was first identified by
E. Meyer, Neue Peloponnesische Wanderungen (Bern, 1957), 42-45.
found in the Farmer’s Law.55 Eustathios Boilas, an 11th-century magnate, lists a water mill as
the third most important building foundation after the house and the church.56 The Cadastre of
Thebes also makes reference to no less than eight mills owned by villagers.57 Moreover, the
cadastre uses topographic vocabulary that shows the ample existence of mountainous
agricultural land, but also its advantageous relation to rivers and mills. In describing, for
example, a field called Chastianos, the document reads, “it begins in the tight places where
Mount Selianon begins, it runs by the river and descends until the hill opposite to Zonatos’
mill…” Another mill, in village Keramia, belongs to lands “above the great river,” which suggests
the prime location at the head of the river, taking advantage of the streams.58 Watermills dating
as early as the 16th century have been documented in the northwestern Peloponnese. The
Open-Air Water Power Museum in Demetsana has reconstructed an entire array of watermills
belonging to Aimyalon Monastery. The permanent exhibition explains the sequence of
processing grains, fabrics, skins, powder brick for mortar and gunpowder.59 Due to the
destructive nature of water, very little survives from pre-seventeenth century watermills. The
study of medieval mills as an archaeological subject is just beginning. For example, two
watermills in Thessaloniki have been securely dated to the fourteenth century. The Laconia
survey has recorded two mills dating from the Middle Byzantine to Ottoman period.60 Within the
54 J. L. Teall, “The Byzantine Agricultural Tradition,” DOP 25 (1971), 52.
55 W. Ashburner, “The Farmer’s Law,” JHS 30 (1910), 107-108.
56 “I built my house and the holy temple from the foundations, and [I created] meadows, parks,
vineyards, gardens, aqueducts, small farms, water mills, and [I brought] animals for use both
necessary and useful.” S. Vryonis, “The Will of a Provincial Magnate, Eustathius Boilas (1059),”
DOP 11 (1957), 266.
57 N. G. Svoronos, “Recherches sur le cadastre byzantin et la fiscalité aux XIe et XIIe siècles:
Le cadastre de Thèbes,” BCH 83 (1957), reprinted in Etudes sur l’organisation intérieure, la
société et l’économie de l’Empir Byzantin (London, 1973), 12-14.
58 Svoronos, “Recherches sur le cadastre byzantin," 11-12.
59 See The Open-Air Water Power Museum above.
study area of the northwestern Peloponnese, the mill of Marina Maritsa survives and was
surveyed. It dates to 18th century, although it may have had a preceding phase.61
Historians have examined an important shift in the Byzantine Empire's geopolitics, when
provinces overtook the capital in productivity and organization.62 All textual evidence points
towards economic growth throughout the urban centers of the Peloponnese occurring as early
as the 9th century. Along with Corinth, Athens and Thebes, Patras flourished as a major
provincial city in the newly formed theme of Hellas and Peloponnese during the 12th century.
The Latin Crusader state of the Morea created its "triangle of power" in Eleia, giving the
northwestern Peloponnese an additional boost of economic prosperity after 1206.63 Manolis
Chatzedakis’ statistical analysis of wall-frescoes in southern Greece shows a greater number of
works executed during the Frankish period than either the preceding or the succeeding
periods.64 Urban prosperity translated into greater exploitation of the countryside for the
accumulation of basic foodstuff to support growing populations, if not also for the manufacturing
of exportable goods. The historical record offers scant glimpses of economic activity in the
60 G. Shipley, “Catalogue of Sites,” in Continuity and Change in a Greek Rural Landscape. The
Laconia Survey, v. 2, Archaeological Data (London, 1996), 352-353, 375-377, figs. 24.22, 24.35,
Sites G522 and K204 (surveyed by G.D.R. Sanders).
61 Kourelis, "Landmarks of Rural Archaeology," 487, fig. 108, Site No 107.
62 A. Kazhdan and A. Wharton Epstein, Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and
Twelfth Centuries (Berkeley, 1985), 31-56; J. Herrin, “Realities of Byzantine Provincial
Government. Hellas and Peloponnesos, 1180-1205,” DOP 29 (1975), 255-287.
63 D. Athanasoulis, “The Triangle of Power: Building Projects in the Metropolitan Area of the
Crusader Principality of the Morea,” in Viewing the Morea: Land and People in the Late
Medieval Peloponnese, ed. , S. E. J. Gerstel (Washington, D.C., 2013), 111-151.
64 M. Chatzidakis, “Η μνημέίακηέ ζωγραφίκηέ στην Ελλαέδα. Ποσοτίκέές προσέγγίέσέίς,”
Praktika tes Akademias Athenon 56 (1981), 386.
northwestern Peloponnese and its involvement in the production of fabrics. Placed in the context
of corroborating archaeological evidence the texts highlight the production of woolen and linen
In the Life of Basil I, Theophanes Continuatus describes the relationship between the emperor
and a landowner from Patras, the widow Danielis.65 Around 850, Basil passed through Patras
where a local monk prophesized his future ascent to the throne. Danielis recognized the
potential of Basil and sought honors and spiritual favors that would ensure her future privileges.
She made Basil her son’s godfather, an act which paid off by the appointment of the son as
protospatharios. When Basil became emperor, Danielis traveled to Constantinople and brought
elaborate gifts. Danielis crossed the Gulf of Corinth by boat, and from Naupaktos she traveled to
the capital via a land route. The Madrid Chronicle of John Skylitzes contains a miniature
illumination of Danielis’ journey. Carried by eight slaves (although the text says ten), she sits on
a litter of ornate fabric upholstery (fig. 7).66 The Life of Basil pays great attention to the rich array
of gifts that Danielis brought to Constantinople. In addition to slaves and rich metals, they
included locally produced linen and woolen fabrics. Theophanes’ story is puzzling not only
because of Danielis’ social status as a woman, but also because her economic power seems
unusual for this period. She is said to control “not a small part of the Peloponnese as her
personal property” only 45 years after the establishment of imperial authority, but two centuries
before great landowners (archons) had accumulated political power. Most likely, Danielis’
property came from land granted to a military official after Patras’ re-conquest. Under such a
scenario, Danielis’ deceased husband would have been a veteran, or in Choniates’ terminology
a budding thematikos archon.67
Some scholars have interpreted Danielis’ story to be entirely fictional, while others have
attempted to extract elements of truth.68 Even if Danielis’ personage is fanciful, we might
interpret the incident as part of imperial propaganda, a metaphorical offering of goods from a
province to the capital. Under such a reading, more important than Danielis herself are the
65 Theophanes Continuatus, 4.73-6, CSHB, v. 9 (1838), 316-320.
66 Biblioteca nacional, Vitr. 26-2, folio 102a, reprinted in L’illustration du manuscrit de Skylitzès
de la Bibliothèque Nationale de Madrid, (Bibliothèque de L’Institut Hellénique d’études
byzantines et post-byzantines de Venise, no. 10), ed. A. Grabar and M. Manoussacas (Venice,
1979), fig. 110, pl. XIX. The Madrid Chronicle dates to 1130-50; it is the most impressive
manuscript produced in Byzantine Southern Italy, see E. Boeck, Imagining the Byzantine Past:
The Perception of History in the Illustrated Manuscripts of Skylitzes and Manasses (Cambridge,
67 K. Amantos, Ιστορίία του βυζαντίνουί κραίτους
, (Athens, 1939-1947) v. 2, 26.
goods that a personalized Patras may have presented to the imperial purse, namely elaborate
fabrics. The northwestern Peloponnese was famous in antiquity for its flax, and there is much
evidence for a flourishing fabric industry in the 13th century. The diachronic prestige of fabric
manufacturing in the region makes us pay closer attention to what might otherwise have been a
Danielis’ gifts to Basil included three hundred slaves, vessels of gold and silver, but most
importantly fabrics. Danielis brought to Constantinople 100 sheets (σίδοένία), 100 linen-wool
clothes (λίνομαλοταέρία) and 200 wool-free flax clothes (αμαέλία λίναέ
). Although the
numbers may be purely formulaic and the types of cloth difficult to reconstruct, the insistent
differentiation between flax (λίναέ) and wool (μαλίέ) is revealing. Contemporary readers, of the
10th century, would be able to read an implied topographical variation between two kinds of raw
material. Flax is a plant grown in well-watered fields, while wool is a byproduct of sheep and
goat husbandry. The reference to fabrics in Theophanes’ narrative continues after Danielis’
return to Patras. Around 880, Basil built a new church in the imperial palace. Known as "the New
Church," it was one of the most influential Middle Byzantine buildings in Constantinople.69
According to the chronicle, Danielis requested the dimensions of the building and manufactured
an enormous wool carpet (νακοταέπητας) made to fit the church.70 The carpet was sewn with
precious stones and contained a peacock-like design. Although the Nea does not survive, it can
be reconstructed from Theophanes Continuatus’ ekphrasis. Among the descriptions of gold and
rich marbles, we read, “As for the pavement, it appears to be covered with silken stuffs of
Sidonian workmanship,” another reference to Danielis’ gift from Patras.
The continuous reference of fabrics in Danielis’ story suggests that Patras had established itself
as a city of high quality cloth production. The raw material for the carpet and the wool fabrics
would have come local livestock, no doubt from geographical areas that could sustain pastoral
activity. The medieval settlements in the hinterland of Patras practiced husbandry and could be
the source of local wool. Whether through formalized gift-exchange, as described in the
chronicle, or through trade, the wool from the settlements may have reached larger markets,
including the capital. Although fabric workshops existed in Patras, part of the manufacturing
could have occurred in settlement workshops. Excavations of Roman villas around Patras have
68 S. Runciman, “The Widow Danelis,” in Etudes dediées à la mémorie d’André M. Andréadès
(Athens, 1940), 425-431, reviewed by F. Dölger ByzZeit 41 (1941), 254.
69 R. Janin, La géographie ecclésiastique de l’empire byzantin. Les églises et les monastères
(Paris, 1969), 343, R. Krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture, 4th ed. (New
York, 1986), 355-356.
70 Ναέκος= fleece; ταέπητας = carpet.β
produced evidence of wool production (loom spindles, etc.) at the scale of domestic
The region of Eleia was an epicenter of textile production also in antiquity. According to
Pausanias, the region was known for its clothes in the 2nd century. Eleia was the only place in
Greece to produce a kind of fine flax whose quality rivaled the flax of Palestine. Pausanias calls
the fabric βυέσσος, a term which has not allowed any precise material reconstruction.72
Pausanias was so impressed by the quality of Eleian flax, that in his description of βυέσσοςhe
discusses silk, which in antiquity was manufactured exclusively in China.73 Seventeen centuries
later, the traveler Leake describes flax production in Gastouni, the Ottoman capital of Eleia. He
was disappointed that the quality of flax in 1805 did not seem as great as in antiquity, but he
provided an account of its preparation.
The chief produce of the arable land of Gastúni is flax, wheat, and two kinds of
Holcus, both called Kalambókki; namely, maize and the dhurra of Egypt, called
from the smallness of the grain, Small Kalambókki. For flax the land is once
ploughed in the spring, and two or three times in the ensuing autumn with a pair
of oxen, when the seed is thrown in and covered with the plough. The plant does
not require and hardly admits of weeding, as it grows very thick. When ripe it is
pulled up by the roots, and laid in bundles in the sun. It is then thrashed to
71 Loom weights are a standard find in all excavations of rural farmsteads in antiquity.
Peloponnesian examples in Patras, Eleia, Lavda, etc., are ample, see M. Petropoulos,
,” in Structures rurales et sociétés antiques. Actes du colloque de
Corfou (14-16 mai 1992) (Paris, 1994), 412-414; J. E. Coleman, Excavations at Pylos in Elis
72 “Here, and here only in Greece, does flax [βυέσσος] grow … The fine flax of Elis is as fine as
that of the Hebrews, but it is not so yellow,” Pausanias 5.5.2, trans. W. H. S. Jones and H. A.
Ormerod, Pausanias Description of Greece, vol. 2 (Cambridge, Mass., 1926), 400-403. “The
land of Elis is fruitful, being especially suited to the growth of fine flax. Now while hemp and flax,
both the ordinary and the fine variety, are sown by those whose soil is suited to grow it, the
threads from which the Seres make the dresses are produced from no bark, but in a different
way as follows,” Pausanias 6.26.6, trans. W. H. S. Jones, Pausanias Description of Greece, vol.
2 (Cambridge, Mass., 1918), 158-161.
73 J. G. Frazer ed., Pausanias’s Description of Greece (Cambridge, 1898), v. 3, 470-2; v. 4,
110-112). Frazer notes that Pausanias’ passage is one of the few ancient references to Chinese
separate the seed; the bundles are laid in the river for five days, then dried in the
sun, and pressed in a wooden machine. Contrary to ancient reputation, the flax of
Gastúni is not very fine, which my informant ascribes to its being exposed to the
cold and running water of the river, instead of being soaked in ponds; it is chiefly
used in the neighbouring islands by the peasants, who weave it into cloths for
their own use.
Silk production was introduced into Constantinople in the 6th century when two legendary
Byzantine monks smuggled cocoons. Byzantine silk was initially under tight imperial control, but
sericulture spread to provincial cities in the 9th century.75 Patras, along with Corinth and Thebes,
became famous for its silk manufacturing. Excavations in Thebes have revealed the industrial
installations for the manufacture of silk. This include manufacturing complexes with pools for the
collection of water.76 By the time of the Latin conquest, Peloponnesian silk had reached an
international reputation, as is suggested by the gifts that the Latin elite offered to their patrons
abroad. Following the treaty of Sapienza in 1209, Geoffrey Villehardouin promised to send silk
garments to the Church of Saint Mark and to the Doge of Venice.77 Anselm, the Latin bishop of
Patras, signed a contract in 1210 for the annual gift of a silk samiticum to the Abbot of Cluny.78
Finally, Pope Urban IV dispatched a letter to the bishops of the Morea to send him silken
74 Leake, Travels, v. 1, 12-13.
75 R. S. Lopez, “Silk Industry in the Byzantine Empire,” Speculum 20 (1945), 1-42, reprinted in
Byzantium and the World Around It: Economic and Institutional Relations (London, 1978); E.
Weigand, E. 1935. “Die helladisch-byzantinische Seidenweberei,” in Είς μνήίμήν Σπυρίίδωνος
Λαίμπρου(Athens, 1935), 503-514; A. Muthesius, Studies in Byzantine and Islamic Silk
Weaving (London, 1995), Byzantine Silk Weaving AD 400 to AD 1200 (Vienna, 1997); N.
Oikonomides, “Silk Trade and Production in Byzantium from the Sixth to the Ninth Century: The
Seals of Kommerkiarioi,” DOP 40 (1986), 33-53.
76 C. Koilakou, “Βίοτέχνίκέές έγκατασταέσέίς βυζαντίνηές έποχηές στη Θηέβα,”
Αρχαίολογίκαί τεκμήίρία βίοτεχνίκωίν εγκατασταίσεων καταί τή βυζαντίνήί εποχήί 5ος15ος αίωένας(Athens, 2004), 223-229.
77 G. L. Tafel and G. M. Thomas eds., Urkunden zur älteren Handels- und Staatsgeschichte der
Republic Venedig mit besonderer Beziehung auf Byzanz und die Levante (Vienna, 1856-1857;
reprint Amsterdam, 1964), v. 2, 100.
garments in 1261-1264.79 In the second half of the 13th century, the port of Glarentza became
the principal trading post for all Peloponnesian silk.80 Furthermore, “silk worm” (βλαταέ) gave its
name to a neighborhood in Patras. The neighborhood of Vlatadon, near present Vlatero, took its
name in the 9th century and must have signified the silk manufacturing quarters. It was located
at the commercial center of the Frankish city, where there is also reference to a “street of the
shoe makers.” The neighborhood Kandrianika, near the Panagia Alexiotissa, may also be
related to silk manufacture; κανδρέέδέςmeans “the silk factories.”81
During the 9th century, two industries related to fabrics are known to have flourished in Patras—
parchment production and murex-shell purple-dye extraction. Constantine Porphyrogenitos
notes that paper makers (χαρτοποίοίέ) and mural shell fishers (κογχυλέυταίέ) were exempt
from obligation to contribute horses to Emperor Romanos’ military campaign in Lombardy.82
Although no medieval dyeing workshops have been excavated in Patras, we can reconstruct
their form based on ancient workshops excavated in Isthmia and the aforementioned Byzantine
installations in Thebes.83 The installations consist of rock-cut vats and resemble the form of oil
and wine presses that Demetris Athanasoulis has identified in four monastic installations in the
78 For the document, see L. de Mas Latrie, “Donation a l’abbay de Cluny du monastère de
Hiero Komio, près de Patras, en 1210,” Bibliothèque de L’École des Chartes, 2d ser, 5 (18481849), 308-312. Before becoming bishop, Anselm was a monk at Cluny. He had strong
connections to a number of monastic centers including Hautecombe in Savoye where he tried to
get monks for a monastery in Patras. On the general activities of Anselm, see D. Zakythinos, “Ο
αρχίέπίέσκοπος Αέντέλμος καί τα πρωέτα έέτη της Λατίνίκηές έκκλησίέας Πατρωέν
EpetByz 10 (1933) 401-417.
79 L. Dorez and J. Guiraud eds., Les registres d’Urbain IV (1261-1264), Bibliòthèque des
Écoles française d’Athènes et de Rome, 2d ser., vol. 13.1. (Paris, 1899), 15-16.
80 D. Jacoby, “Silk Production in the Frankish Peloponnese: the Evidence of Fourteenth Century
Surveys and Reports," in Travellers and Officials in the Peloponnese. Descriptions-ReportersStatistics. 4th Symposium of History and Art 26-28 July 1991 in Honour of Sir Steven Runciman,
ed. H. Kalligas (Monemvasia, 1994), 46-47.
81 A. Moutzali, “Στοίχέίέα πολέοδομίκηές έξέέλίξης της βυζαντίνηές Παέτρας,”
30 (1989), 84-87; “Τοπογραφίκαέ της Μέσαίωνίκηές Παέτρας
,” in Αντίίφωνον. Αφίείρωμα
στον καθήγήτήί Ν. Β. Δρανδαίκή
, ed. V. Katsaros (Thessaloniki, 1994), 141.
The commerce of textiles in Patras might have been carried out by the city's Jewish community
that is attested in the 12th century. According to traveler Benjamin of Tudela, Patras had a
community of 50 Jews (in contrast to 100 across the bay in Naupaktos, 300 in Corinth and, 2000
in Thebes). 85 When visiting Patras in 1800, F.C.H.L. Pouqueville recorded epigraphic evidence
“at the steps of the Synagogue.”86 Patras’ significance as a trading post is noted in Venetian
documents. Sometimes, small vessels would be dispatched from the port of Patras to the Island
of Corfu, where the goods would be placed on larger galleys.87 Emperor Alexios III’s chrysobull
of 1198 and the treaty with Venice of 1204 show that Patras, Kalavryta, Methone and
Lakedaimon were the main Venetian outposts in the Peloponnese.88
By all indications, urban centers in the northwestern Peloponnese flourished economically
between the 9th and the 13th centuries. Although we cannot directly relate urban prosperity with
conditions in the agricultural countryside, we can at least hypothesize a viable venue by which
82 Constantine Porphyrogenitos makes a passing reference to mural shell fishers
(κογχυλέυταίέ) and paper makers (χαρτοποίοίέ) in the list of people exempt from obligation to
contribute horses in leu of military service during Romanus campaign in Lombardy, G.
Moravcsik and R. J. H. Jenkins eds., Constantine Porphyrogenitus. De administrando imperio
(Budapest, 1949, reprint, Washington, 1967), 256-257.
83 An elaborate workshop for dyeing and weaving has been found, for example, in Isthmia, C.
Kardara, “Dyeing and Weaving Works at Isthmia,” AJA 65 (1961), 261-266. The installations
consist of rock-cut vats and are thus difficult to date.
84 D. Athanasoulis, “Μοναστηρίακαέ πατητηέρία στην Ηλέίέα
,” in Οίίνον ίστορωί.
Αμπελοοίνίκήί ίστορίία καί αρχαίολογίία τής ΒΔ Πελοποννήίσου
(Eleia, 2001), 69-78.
85 The relative number of Jews in any city may not be accurate indication of the level of trade
since not all Jews may have been merchants. Benjamin, for example, describes a group of
Jewish farmers in Crissa, “where about 200 Jews live apart. They sow and reap on their own
land,” M. N. Adler ed., The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. Critical Text, Translation and
Commentary (London, 1907; reprinted, 1960), 10. For the Jewish community in Naupaktos, see
P. Christopoulos, “Η Εβραίΐκηέ κοίνοέτης Ναυπαέκτου
,” EESM 1 (1968), 277-300.
86 F. C. H. L. Pouqueville, Voyage de la Grèce, 2d ed. (Paris, 1826-1827) v. 6, 65, n. 3.
Fragmentary inscription, dated to 1725, names a Daniel, A. D. Rizakis, Achaie II. La cité Patras:
épigraphie et histoire (Athens, 1992), 275-276, no. 293.
products from the hinterland would find links to international markets through coastal ports.
Consistent references to clothing, whether vyssos, silk, flax, or wool, imply the availability of raw
material. In the case of wool, a very likely source could be found in the shepherd villages of
Archaeological field survey in the Peloponnese has produced ample evidence for the
transhumant practices of the medieval peasant and the associated production of woolen textiles.
Building on a half-century of pedestrian survey, the Morea Project illustrated the architectural
character of wool-producing settlements in the northwestern Peloponnese. Although comprised
entirely of rubble walls and ceramics, this evidence helps illuminate the literary evidence
discussing textile production in the region. From Danielis' present of a woolen carpet to the
Emperor Basil I in the 9th century to Plethon's recommendations on textile production to
Emperor Manuel II in the 15th century, the Peloponnese has been a continuous epicenter of
textile production in the Middle and Late Byzantine world. The mechanics of the manufacture of
wool was captured by the ethnoarchaeological work of the 1970s. Since no identified woolen
textiles survive from the medieval Peloponnese (with the exception of a few exports in western
Europe), there is little material evidence for this phenomenon. A more coherent record of wool in
the western Peloponnese comes from the domestic rubble walls that housed the manufacture of
this important craft.
Velásquez painting The Spinners brought attention to the methodological conflicts in
studying textiles as works of high art versus products of human labor. A wall painting from the
Peribleptos Church in Mystras thematizes the relationship between humans and animals in a
religious context.89 In the church’s 14th-century frescoes, we see a biblical Joachim communing
with contemporary shepherds. The figures wear contemporary shepherd clothes, including a
“shading hat” (skiadion) that became the official insignia of the Palaiologan Dynasty.90 Joachim’s
audience herds its sheep on a precipitous mountain resembling the site on which the church
87 F. Thiriet ed. Régestes de délibérations du sénat de Venise concernant la Romain (Paris,
1958-1961), vol. 1, 215, no. 921.
88 S. P. Lampros ed. Μίχαήίλ Ακομίναίτου τα Σωζοίμενα
(Athens, 1879-1880, reprint
Groningen, 1968), v. 2, 37; D. A. Zakythinos, “Μέλέέταί πέρίέ της δίοίκητίκηές δίαίρέέσέως
καί της έπαρχίακηές δίοίκηέσέως έν τω βυζαντίνω κρατέί
,” EpetByz 17 (1941), 208-274.
89 K. Kourelis, "Religion in the Byzantine Countryside," in Cambridge World History of Religious
Architecture, ed. R. Etlin and A. M. Yasin (Cambridge, forthcoming).
actually stands. The spiritual, political, and ecological fate of the Peloponnese rests on the
management of its most important asset, its sheep and goats. The animals animate the
landscape and determine the placement and architectural character of the region's rural
architecture. Their material record is traceable on the inarticulate ground of this landscape,
through the scatters of inanimate traces.
90 G. Millet, Monuments byzantins de Mistra; mateίriaux pour l'eίtude de l'architecture et de la
peinture en Grèce aux XIVe et XVe siècles(Paris, 1910), pl. 126.1. M. Chatzidakis, Mystras:
The Medieval City and the Castle (Athens, 1981), 73-89.
FIG. 1. Diego Velázquez, The Spinners, 1657
FIG. 2. Goat herding on the mountain slopes
FIG. 3. Peloponnesian shepherd with wool cape, 19th
FIG. 4. Kastro tes Orias, medieval village
FIG. 4. Kastro tes Orias, medieval mill run.
FIG. 5. Santomeri, medieval house, photo and plan
FIG. 6. Widow Danielis, Madrid Skylitzes
FIG. 7. Joachim and the Shepherds,