Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Sunday, February 15, 2015

1,500-Year-Old Charred Byzantine Grape Seeds Discovered in Israel’s Negev Desert

The charred grape seeds. (Photo: University of Haifa)

“And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.’” (Genesis 1:29)

(Breaking News of Israel)  -  Charred grape seeds dating back 1,500 years were discovered recently in an archaeological excavation in the ruins of the ancient Byzantine city of Halutza, about 19 miles southwest of Beersheba.
In its heyday, in the 6th and 7th centuries A.D., Halutza or Elusa as it was called in Greek, was the most important Byzantine city of the Negev area.
The excavation is part of a broader bio-archeological research examining the rise and fall of the Negev Byzantine society, in the seventh century A.D. The research is conducted by the The Zinman Institute of Archaeology form the University of Haifa, and the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Tazpit News Agency interviewed Professor Guy Bar-Oz, one of the researchers participating in this project. Prof. Bar-Oz explained there are three main explanations for the fall of the Byzantine society in the Negev. “Climate change, Muslim conquest, and plagues all contributed to the fall. But until now there were no physical evidence to support any of these, only historical sources,” Bar-Oz told Tazpit.
“Though historical sources might provide a lot of useful information, they are very subjective to the writer’s agenda and premises. There is also different current interpretation to each source. It’s very much like a modern day newspaper, it gives you a certain perspective but it’s not enough when looking for conclusive evidence,” elaborated Prof. Bar-Oz.
Byzantine art - Noah drinking wine among the
vines, detail from the Story of Noah.

Byzantine depiction of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.

The charred grape seeds were found in Halutza’s refuse dump, as the city itself was ruined over time due to stone theft. Prof. Bar-Oz explains the importance of what he calls garbage-archaeology.
“For an archaeologist, garbage is like a time capsule. We can extract a lot of useful information from garbage, like what the people of Halutza ate and drank, the pots and tools they used, and what livestock they kept,” he told Tazpit.
In regard to the broader research, Prof. Bar-Oz explained that “a change in diet or even pottery can imply a change in the culture and ethnicity of the population of Halutza. In addition, we can analyze the remains of dead animals such as rats, and through that find out whether the city was hit by plague.”
The charred grape seeds are a very interesting finding. According to historical sources from the Byzantine era, wine from the Negev or “Gaza wine”, named after the port from which it was sent to all corners of the Byzantine Empire, was considered to be of very high quality, and very expensive.
The Halutza grape seeds could be of great importance to the wine industry, because they indicate that wine was produced in the harsh desert climate of the Negev and was almost certainly grown with scarce usage of water.
“Wine production can be very much affected by changing climates. Therefore, finding a strain of seeds that can grow using only a little bit of water in a warm climate, could be a great revelation to the wine production industry,” Prof. Bar-Oz further explained.
According to Prof. Bar-Oz, the Halutza grape seeds will be recreated through DNA reconstruction. And though it won’t explain the downfall of the 7th century A.D. Byzantine society of the Negev, it could explain why the wine of the Negev was so renowned in the Byzantine Empire.
(Breaking Israel News)

1,500-year-old Byzantine wine press


The Israel Antiquities Authority made the discovery during an excavation at the site, near Kiyrat Gat in southern Israel. Archaeologists believe the owner of the winepress was a Christian because of the rare find of a complete ceramic model of a church.

A Byzantine community about 1,500 years old with a large wine press was discovered a few weeks ago by the Israel Antiquities Authority near Kiryat Gat. Remains of the site, where the 100-square-meter wine press and a miniature ceramic model of a church building have been unearthed, will be displayed at an events hall to be built at the location.
The IAA made the discovery during an excavation at the site, near the Hamei Yoav hot springs, between the Beit Guvrin national park and Ashkelon. Archaeologists believe the owner of the wine press was a Christian because of the rare find of a complete ceramic model of a church, which had an opening through which an oil lamp could be inserted so the model could be used as a lantern.
The finds include the wine press’s mosaic treading floor with a cavity into which a screw was inserted, used to press the grapes. Three collection vats were found to which the juice flows, as well as compartments to hold the grapes while they fermented.
“Ashkelon was a seaside commercial city through which wine was exported from the Land of Israel to the entire Mediterranean basin,” said Sa’ar Ganor, the IAA’s archaeologist for the Ashkelon district, adding that the newly discovered winepress would have served this commerce.
IAA Southern District archaeologist Yigal Israel said: “The finds enrich our knowledge of the material culture of the people of the Byzantine period. This was an industrial wine press on the road to Ashkelon; we have wine presses all along the road to Ashkelon and this shows us how the wine industry flourished in this area.”   (Haaretz.com)

Ceramic model of a church oil lamp found at the site.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Arab Conquest of Cyprus

Arab Warrior

The Roman Period

The Island of Cyprus became a Roman province in 58 BCE. This came about, according to Strabo, because Publius Clodius Pulcher held a grudge against Ptolemy of Cyprus

The renowned Stoic and strict constitutionalist Cato the Younger was sent to annex Cyprus and organize it under Roman law. Cato was relentless in protecting Cyprus against the rapacious tax farmers that normally plagued the provinces of the Republican period. 

After the civil wars that ended the Roman Republic, Mark Antony gave the island to Cleopatra VII of Egypt and their daughter Cleopatra Selene, but it became a Roman province again after his defeat at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. 

From 22 BCE onwards, Cyprus was a senatorial province "divided into four districts centred around Paphus, Salamis, Amathus and Lapethus. After the reforms of Diocletian it was placed under the Diocese of Oriens.

The Pax Romana was only twice disturbed in Cyprus in three centuries of Roman occupation. The first serious interruption occurred in 115–16, when a revolt by Jews inspired by Messianic hopes broke out.  Turmoil sprang up two centuries later in 333–4, when the magister pecoris camelorum Calocaerus revolted against Constantine I. 

The Eastern Roman Period
After the division of the Roman Empire into an eastern half and a western half, Cyprus came under the rule of Byzantium. 
The cities of Cyprus were destroyed by two successive earthquakes in 332 and 342 AD and this marked the end of an era and at the same time the beginning of a new one, very much connected with modern life in Cyprus. Most of the cities were not rebuilt, save Salamis which was rebuilt on a smaller scale and renamed Constantia after the Roman Emperor Constantius II, son of Constantine the Great, residing in Constantinople. 
The new city was now the capital of the island. It was mainly Christian and due to this some alterations were made during the rebuilding. The palaestra was turned into a meeting place and many architectural elements were used to erect spacious churches decorated with murals, mosaics and coloured marbles.

The Roman Ruins at Salamis, Cyprus

Byzantine Fortifications
Paphos Castle is located on the edge of Paphos harbor.  It was orginally built as a Byzantine fort to protect the harbor.  It was rebuilt in the 13th century after being destroy in the earthquake of 1222.  In 1570 it was dismantled by the Venentians and later restored and strengthened by the Ottomans.  (Paphos Castle).

The Arab Conquest

For 700 years in the east the Romans had fought against the organized conventional armies of the Persian Empire.

The final great contest between Rome and Persian lasted from 602 to 628 AD.  The Romans were victorious but both empires were shattered politically and economically.

Because of the endless warfare in the east, Persians were always on the minds of Rome.  The Arabs, if they were thought of at all, were considered bandits and raiders.

In September of 629 the newly created Muslim armies of Arabia first appeared in battle against Rome just to the east of the Jordan River.

In 632 Saint Maximos the Confessor wrote a contemporary reference to the barbarian ravages on the frontier that must have been about the Arabs:

"What more unfortunate circumstances could there be here than these 
that hold the inhabited world in their grip? . . .  What could be more 
lamentable and more terrible to those upon whom them fell?  To see 
how a people, coming from the desert and barbaric, run through the 
land that is not theirs, as if it were their own; how they, who seem 
only to have simple human features, lay waste our sweet and 
organized country with their wild untamed beasts."
Heraclius, Emperor of Byzntium - Walker Kaegi (pg 218)

From 629 to 637 saw the Muslim Arab conquest of Palaestina Prima and Syria.  Egypt fell in the 640s.  In 647 the Muslims started their march across Byzantine North Africa to Carthage.

These were huge changes to the Empire in a short 20 year span of time.

During this time frame in 650 AD the Arabs made the first attack on the island of Cyprus under the leadership of Muawiyah I with a fleet out of Alexandria, Egypt.

The Arabs conquered the capital Salamis - Constantia after a brief siege, but drafted a treaty with the local rulers. In the course of this expedition a relative of the Prophet, Umm-Haram fell from her mule near the Salt Lake at Larnaca and was killed. She was buried in that spot and the Hala Sultan Tekke was built there. 

After apprehending a breach of the treaty, the Arabs re-invaded the island in 654 AD with five hundred ships. This time, however, a garrison of 12,000 men was left in Cyprus, bringing the island under Muslim influence.

In 688, the emperor Justinian II and the caliph Abd al-Malik reached an unprecedented agreement. The Arabs evacuated the island, and for the next 300 years, Cyprus was ruled jointly by both the Caliphate and the Byzantines as a condominium, despite the nearly constant warfare between the two parties on the mainland. The collected taxes were divided among the Arabs and the Emperor.

Under Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867–886) Byzantine troops recaptured Cyprus, which was established as a theme, but after seven years the island reverted to the previous status quo

Once again, in 911, the Cypriots helped a Byzantine fleet under admiral Himerios, and in retaliation the Arabs under Damian of Tarsus ravaged the island for four months and carried off many captives. The isolation of Cyprus from the rest of the Greek-speaking world assisted the formation of a separate Cypriot dialect. This period of Arab influence lasted until the 10th century.

The Byzantine Reconquest

In the year 958, when a resurgent Byzantine Empire under the leadership of Nikephoros II Phokas conquered the island. The actual conquest was under the Byzantine general Basil.

A rebellion by governor Theophilos Erotikos in 1042, and another in 1092 by Rhapsomates, failed as they were quickly subdued by imperial forces.

In 1185, the last Byzantine governor of CyprusIsaac Komnenos, from a minor line of the Komnenos imperial house, rose in rebellion and attempted to seize the throne. His attempted coup was unsuccessful, but Komnenos was able to retain control of the island. 

Byzantine actions against Komnenos failed because he enjoyed the support of William II of Sicily. The Emperor had agreed with the sultan of Egypt to close Cypriot harbours to the Crusaders.

In the 12th century A.D. the island became a target of the crusadersRichard the Lionheart landed in Limassol on 1 June 1191.  Richard attacked the island which was easily subdued. After local revolts he decided to sell the island to the Knights Templar. 

AUB Discovers Byzantine Cyprus

Video  -  Students from the American University of Beirut went to Cyprus for a Field Trip in the context of the course Early Christian Art given by Dr. Lena Kelekian in order to visit some of the Byzantine Churches of the country. This is an overview of the trip.

Byzantine frescoes in Asinou Church, Nikitari, Cyprus.

Byzantine Fortress of Kyrenia
The Byzantines built the original Cyprus castle in the 7th Century to guard the city against the new Arab maritime threat. The first historical reference to the castle occurs in 1191, when King Richard the Lionheart of England captured it on his way to the Third Crusade.  The current version of Kyrenia is a 16th-century castle built by the Venetians over a previous Crusader fortification.  (Kyrenia Castle)

(cucy.soc.srcf.net)      (Deremilitari.org)      (san.beck.org)

(books.google.com)      (books.google.com)      (academia.edu)

(Cyprus in the Middle Ages)      (Ancient history of Cyprus)      (Muslim conquests)