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The Settlement of Byzantine Messene: From Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages in the Southern Balkans, 500–800

Nikos Tsivikis, University of Crete, Junior Fellow 2011–2012

The archaeology of the urban settlements of early Byzantine/late antique Greece has been at the center of interest for Byzantine archaeologists for decades, but it has provided little information about the realities of life and social interaction in smaller towns and their rural hinterland. My project was the study of the unpublished archaeological material from the early medieval phases of the Byzantine settlement of Messene (AD 500–800), an agriculturally oriented town of medium size. Both architectural remains and artifacts were documented and utilized toward an understanding of the settlement itself, its phases, and the archaeology of this period in general. My research focused on the wider perspectives of the archaeology and social history of the early Byzantine and transitional period in the Peloponnese in reference to the realities of the southern Balkans in general.

During the academic year at Dumbarton Oaks, using the vast resources offered by the research library and the friendly assistance of the staff and the other fellows, I made significant progress toward the final draft of my project to be submitted this summer. I had the opportunity to revisit the relevant textual sources of the period and also to compare the Messene material with analogous finds from sites all across the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean. But the most important goal achieved was that I engaged with the main aspects of the discourse surrounding the transformations of early Byzantine society into the early medieval period as it is portrayed in its archaeological remains, and the impact of these transformations, as well as that of the “barbarian” immigrations, on the organization and form of different kinds of urban centers.

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