Byzantine Greece In Greece, the period from the seventh through the ninth centuries is

described as the Byzantine Dark Ages or the Early Byzantine Age and was marked by economic and social disruption, the apparent collapse of urban society, barbarian and Arab raids, and the establishment of Slavic settlements in various parts of the countryside. The period from the tenth through the twelfth centuries is usually described as the Middle Byzantine Age, and it witnessed the apparent high point of Byzantine civilization in Greece, with the efflorescence of cities, trade, and culture. The Fourth Crusade and the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders in 1204 marked a major turning point, and from that time Greece was divided and ruled by various powers: the western Crusader states, the Italian merchant republics, and the revived Byzantine states. In the broadest terms one may speak of Byzantine Greece as a geographical entity, since Greek culture survived (or reemerged) in these regions despite various invasions and threats. Nonetheless, there were many regional differences, and the countryside was politically divided. At the beginning of the Byzantine Period all of Greece was subject to the western Roman Empire, and the church was administratively under the Pope in Rome. The country was divided into the provinces of Thessaly, Macedonia, and Thrace in the north, Epiros in the northwest, and Achaia in the center and south; the Aegean Islands were part of a province of the islands, and Crete was administered as a province along with Cyrene in Africa. Thessalonike became the seat of the prefecture of Illyricum and one of the major administrative centers of the empire. From the seventh century onward Greece was brought into the Byzantine administrative system of “themes” (themata), and religiously it was placed under the authority of the patriarch of Constantinople. Central Greece became the theme of Hellas, and there were themes of the Peloponnesos, Nikopolis, Thessalonike, Macedonia, and the Kibyrrhaiotai. The theme system began to disintegrate in the twelfth century due to regionalism, and it was swept away by the Latin conquests in the early thirteenth century. Various Frankish principalities ruled much of the countryside: the kingdom of Thessalonike (an immediate dependency of the Latin Empire in Constantinople) in the north, the duchy of Athens in central Greece, and the principality of Achaia in the Peloponnesos, but in fact semiautonomous western feudatories controlled most of the land. Greek “survivor states” existed in the despotate of Epiros and the despotate of the Morea, and the revived Byzantine Empire exerted its control against the Latin rulers until it too was ultimately displaced by the growing power of the Ottoman Turks in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Byzantine culture, of course, lived on after the Ottoman conquest, and it survives in many aspects of Greek life today. Byzantine archaeology has been relatively well developed in Greece, in part because the Byzantine heritage is considered to be of some contemporary importance. Nevertheless, excavation and study has tended to focus almost exclusively on ecclesiastical monuments, especially early Christian basilicas, frescoes, and icons, and interest has been more characteristically art historical rather than historical or archaeological. In addition, Byzantine archaeology in Greece suffers by comparison with the much higher prestige afforded to the archaeology of prehistory and the Classical Period. From the Early Byzantine (or Late Roman) Period most work has been done on the literally hundreds of basilicas discovered throughout the country. Most of these were

located in the ancient cities in the plains, or more commonly along the sea, and nearly all of these were discovered in a state of complete destruction, the result of the Byzantine Dark Ages, when many of the buildings were apparently abandoned and left to collapse. A few early Christian basilicas are still preserved and in use, but these are primarily in the north (most notably Thessalonike) and they have all undergone extensive renovation. Early excavation (prior to 1950 and not uncommonly since) has focused primarily on the uncovering of the plan of the church and the recovery and of any decorative scheme (most notably the mosaic floors), and little attention has been paid to stratigraphy or to social or liturgical considerations. A primary interest has involved the determination of architectural types and their place of origin. Thus, it has become commonplace to see early Byzantine Greece as an architectural crossroads, with influences coming from Constantinople, western Asia Minor, Syria, and Italy. Among the most important monuments of this period are the churches of Thessalonike, especially the basilicas of St. Demetrius and the Acheiropoietos, and the “rotunda” of St. George. Nea Anchialos (Thessalian Thebes) preserves a remarkable series of early churches, and the islands of the Aegean are especially rich in the number and lavishness of the early Christian buildings, including the Panagia Hekatontapyliane in Paros and at least fifty-four churches from the island of Lesbos. Few secular monuments of the period have been excavated or studied; most important of those are from the agora in Athens. The Byzantine Dark Ages are, not surprisingly, poorly documented archaeologically. Investigation has focused primarily on urban collapse and the effect of Slavic and other barbarian invasions in Greece. The question of the nature and extent of Slavic settlements in Greece remains problematic. The archaeology of Middle Byzantine Greece has been concerned almost exclusively with the documentation of standing churches and their mosaic and frescoed decoration. The work of A. K. Orlandos has been especially important in this regard. Notable buildings such as Hosios Loukas in Phokis and Daphne near Athens have received detailed treatment. The cultural contacts in the period from the thirteenth century onward present a picture of remarkable variety. Archaeological investigations, again, focus almost exclusively on description of the many standing buildings. An important exception is the recent excavation of a large Frankish ecclesiastical complex in Corinth. The Frankish castles have been studied in detail by A. Bon, the monastic complex at Meteora by D. M. Nicol, and the well-preserved city of Mistra and its houses and churches by many scholars. Important Late Byzantine churches are found throughout the country, and regional styles of architecture and painting developed, especially in Macedonia, Thessaly, and Epiros. More detailed and intensive archaeological investigation in the future will allow important new insights into the history and social and cultural interactions characteristic of this period.[See also Byzantine Culture, articles on Byzantine Decorative Arts, Byzantine Fortifications.]


Antoine Bon, Le péloponnèse byzantin jusqu'au 1204 (1951). Antoine Bon, La Morée franque (1969). Allison Frantz, The Church of the Holy Apostles (1971). Paul Hetherington, Byzantine and Medieval Greece (1991). Timothy E. Gregory How to cite this entry: Neil Asher Silberman, John K. Papadopoulos, Ian Morris, H. A. Shapiro, Mark D. Stansbury-O'Donnell, Frank Holt, Timothy E. Gregory "Greece" The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Brian M. Fagan, ed., Oxford University Press 1996. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Open University of Cyprus. 27 December 2007 < 6.e0170-s0008>

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