Decline and Renewal


This chapter offers an overview of the mechanics of decline and population renewal, and how these affected the cities of Western Turkey. It includes some discussion of how the development of a Christian Empire in the East from the time of Constantine affected and sometimes transformed the urban fabric of the ancient world. It includes information on the timescale of decay, and gives examples of how the ancient monuments were (or were not) reused. Without some broad view of what happened after their days of glory, a visit to many of the sites involved would be more confusing than is necessary, and our story would be incomplete. It is also the case that classical cities were sometimes radically changed by Christianity and then by Islam, so that an examination of this process is important for our theme if we are to understand why the ancient monuments now look as they do.

"Decline" is an emotive word and, ever since Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the concept has been part and parcel of our view of the mediaeval world. Gibbon attributed decline to barbarism and Christianity, and it is certainly true that Christianity was widespread in Turkey by the early fourth century - far more so than in any country further West, except perhaps for North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria). It was an urban religion - which is how paganus, or countryman, attained its present meaning - and hence it is obvious that this new anti-pagan religion was well placed to affect the nature of the classical urban fabric, whether for better or for worse. Until the "Age of the Cathedrals", goes the argument, surely civilization was in the doldrums - inferior, fitful and certainly not universal? In the West, this was for long periods arguably the case; further East, however, it is doubtful whether the "mediaeval" emperors holding sway in Constantinople ever believed that the Roman Empire really had fallen. Rather, it had moved its centre further east. They could point to splendid cities, and especially to their capital, as a main centre of Christian and antique culture for over a millenium - and as the predominant centre of antique culture until the fall of the city to the Turks in 1453 and the rise of the Italian Renaissance.

What is more, was not Byzantine example of great importance in the various revivals of interest in classical art and architecture in the West, well before the Italian Renaissance? While this book is not about Byzantine art per se, it bears underlining that the art and architecture of the Christianised Roman Empire continue in many ways the aims and achievements of the Hellenistic Greeks, and then of the Romans.

Indeed, continuing fascination with the antique past implies a need to discover how antiquities survived down to our own day. What is more, it is often difficult to know when to stop, because some cities have been continuously inhabited. Kanlidivane, for example, has a fine Hellenistic guard-tower, and plenty of Roman sarcophagi (as well as an imposing temple-tomb) - but most of what we see on the ground is Byzantine, because the city was supposedly refounded in the 5th century, prospering until the coming of the Seljuk Turks. Little more can be said, however, until this splendid but ghostly site is dug. Another reason for delving into Byzantine cities can also be seen at Kanlidivane - namely that the manner of life can change radically, highlighting just how exceptional were the attainments (and luxuries) of Graeco-Roman civilization. Thus, if "normal" Roman cities had public baths and aqueducts, and imposing civic buildings such as theatres, where are they at Kanlidivane? Walking around this hard and rocky limestone site, with its many vaulted underground cisterns, it is clear that water was too scarce a commodity for the usual Roman extravagances. The same site also clarifies the recent afterlife of the antique and Byzantine settlement, for there is a still-used Moslem cemetery among the ruins, and several antique houses (probably once two-storey) have been covered with brush and peat flat roofs, supported within by poles (SB8.2).

Because of a lack of detailed excavation on most sites, writing about how the period after the fall of the Western Roman Empire affected the classical monuments in Turkey is sometimes difficult. True, there are plenty of Byzantine fortresses and churches, often build uncompromisingly on earlier foundations, or reworked from earlier structures. But assessing the fabric of everyday life can be difficult because of the propensity of earlier excavators to regard everything above the "classical level" as an unnecessary intrusion, cluttering up and destroying the beauty of the earlier structures. The best example of this procedure is Rome where, on the Forum Romanum, all later structures were ruthlessly taken down (often without sufficient recording before destruction), right down to the paving slabs the ancient Romans of the early Empire actually trod. Of course, there was no more one single classical level on the Forum Romanum than there is anywhere in Turkey: the phrase is usually a mere form of shorthand for the latest significant monumental structure on the site - which is why the Forum Romanum is still confusing, harbouring as it does monuments from many different periods. For the same reason, walking round a classical city in Turkey can also be a confusing experience, with a Greek theatre here (modified in the Roman period, and perhaps later as well), a Roman market there, and some Byzantine churches.

Which level of a site to preserve?

As we have seen in earlier chapters, the archaeological problem in digging any site is just how to arrange matters so that everything makes some kind of sense - especially to those who have neither the time nor the knowledge to disentangle complicated building sequences. Even assuming an interest on the archaeologists' part in later periods - which used to be rare, but is now almost universal - the problem is as intractable as peeling an onion and leaving all its skins intact. If there are later graves (or brick or lime kilns) overlying an agora, as with the Upper Agora at Ephesus, perhaps they must be removed. If the graves are under the agora, and the open space is also occupied by a Byzantine church, as at Iasos (27), what goes and what stays? What about later additions to a classical temple? Does the decision depend on how extensive they are, or perhaps on whether the earlier monument is easily recoverable? If the additions are left in place, just what effort will be needed on the part of the non-professional visitor to "read" the various changes to the structure? Indeed, for whom is the "finished" excavated site intended?

The problem is usually resolved by cleaning up a site to its latest significant standing monuments, which in most cases might well be of radically different dates, This unfortunately means that the visitor can sometimes get no very clear picture of the post-antique occupation of the site without having recourse to excavation reports - even assuming that these deal carefully with such matters, which has only recently become a general rule, as mediaeval and post-mediaeval archaeology become recognized as subjects in their own right. On most sites, of course, the "latest significant standing monuments" would include post-antique re-workings of antique buildings; and on few (Priene is an exception) is it possible to view a Hellenistic city largely free of Roman accretions. Again, excavators often leave behind (or are unable to erase) elements which hint at what happened to the site after classical times. At Iasos, the excavations of which have recently been much extended, the sense of change through time is particularly vivid in the area of the Roman agora: not only is its central area occupied by the clear foundation walls of a large Byzantine church, and its pavement punctuated by many Christian burials, but the south colonnade still harbours a lime kiln on the pavement itself - clear evidence that, at some period of the Middle Ages (not more recently: the present ground-level is too high) marble pieces were rendered down to make lime for building purposes, whilst others must have been simply re-used in modern constructions.


From here you may also go to The Preface, The Introduction, Archaeology in Turkey, Building for Splendour, Town Planning, Roads, Water Supply, Aqueducts, Harbours, The Architecture of Work & Leisure, Religion: Temples & Special Sanctuaries, Funerary Art & Architecture, The Conclusion, The Bibliography, or The Table of Contents

Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey