Felicium Temporum Reparatio: Labraunda in Late Antiquity (c. AD 300-600)

Felicium temporum reparatio – “the restoration of the happy times” – reads the legend of a number of bronze coins (dating from the 340s to the early 360s AD) found at the ancient sanctuary of Zeus at Karian Labraunda. “The restoration of the happy times”: this short sentence alludes to a Roman metaphor portraying the present as being comparable to the “good old days” of the mythical past. Figuratively speaking, the focus of this work (the sanctuary of Labraunda) shares a connection with this metaphor. Labraunda was, in many ways, a sanctuary where the past was always present, as evidenced by ancient buildings and inscriptions that incessantly brought to mind ancient eras even at times that saw the fading of the traditional polytheistic cults. Yet, in terms of preserved material culture at the site, what projections of Late Antique life can be taken from, for example, preserved architecture and small finds? At this measurable level, do the Roman metaphor and the archaeologist’s interpretation merge in a shared view on the sanctuary of Labraunda in Late Antiquity?

     This study has focused on a quantitative analysis of Late Antique remains that have been recorded at Labraunda from 1948 to 2011, and which date mainly to the period c. AD 300-600. However, since finds ranging from the mid-3rd to the 13th century have occasionally been addressed throughout this work, some of these periods are also briefly included in this summarizing chapter. The studied sample comprises of all the diagnostic material of Late Antiquity, including architecture, architectural sculpture, ceramics, glass, inscriptions/graffiti, coins, organic remains, and various other small finds. I have published these finds context-wise in order to form more reliable chronologies and more in-depth find-related contextualization of the specific areas of study. This methodology is still employed infrequently in the archaeological publications of the region; therefore, in applying the quantitative approach, this study has been able to elucidate several new aspects concerning the material culture of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. The find material has been scrutinized according to two separate categories: objects found by previous archaeological missions between 1948 and 1960, and more recent excavations, some of which were conducted by the author since 2005 as part of the Labraunda in Late Antiquity Project. The first-category was studied from excavation notebooks, plans, and photographs while the material that has been excavated in more recent years was documented on site.

     The aim of this work was twofold: the first aim was to study and publish all buildings and archaeological finds that date from the Late Antique period while the second aim was to bring these finds into socio-religious and socio-economic contexts in order to increase our knowledge of Labraunda at the end of Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. A number of objects from closed deposits are of particular importance, among these are the pottery and glass of suggested regional manufacture have been dated and published for the first time. Architectural remains consisting of two church complexes, domestic dwellings, thermae, and various other buildings have also been published, and in several cases these were dated from closed deposits rather than from stylistic comparisons. On the basis of such closed deposits, I have argued a revised chronology for the regional ecclesiastical architecture and architectural sculpture. These new chronologies also affected current ideas on the Christianization process within Karia by suggesting an earlier establishment of Christian sacred topoi in extra-urban contexts than was previously recognized – beginning as early as the early fifth century.

     From the studied objects and other, published regional material, I present a conceptual model for the Christianization of Labraunda. It is suggested that Christian groups of the two neighbouring cities of Alinda and Mylasa contributed mutually to the resettlement of Labraunda around AD 400, following c. 30-40 years of lesser activity at the site. The appeal of Labraunda as a Christian locus sanctus is also discussed and it is suggested that the site transformed into an ecclesiastical centre, attracting sacred movement from the nearby region from the fifth century onwards. The spring-water of Labraunda may have held supposed curative qualities that were integrated in the site-bound Christian mythology given that several water installations and even rebuilt bath complexes were found in connection with the two excavated Churches. It is also argued that Labraunda served as a trade emporium in Late Antiquity, and as a transit of commodities between the coastal plains and the Karian inland. This hypothesis is based on the study of ceramic material that was found all over the site.

     The disposition of this thesis is generally thematic, dividing each studied area into separate chapters. This summarizing and concluding section, however, follows a chronological outline in concordance with seven newly established periods, which are presented in Chapter VI. The earliest period falls within the span of c. AD 250 to the early 360s, in which the pagan sanctuary of Zeus appears to still have been recurrently visited as a polytheistic cultic centre. The construction of a c. 1000 m2 large bath complex (the South Bath) during the mid- to second half of the third century attests to a large number of visitors to the site, especially since the dimensions of the South Bath equal even the largest urban thermae of the neighbouring region of Lykia (baths that have previously been systematically studied). It is also argued that a vast residential area, which includes an architecturally sophisticated tetraconch bath, was built around the beginning of the fourth century AD. The Tetraconch, which has in large parts been excavated, is discussed in Chapter II; the building houses several building phases, and a relatively large sample of finds dating from the fourth to the ninth centuries AD. It is argued that the Tetraconch and the ancillary residence were built possibly as a part-time dwelling for the newly appointed governor of the region during the first decade of the fourth century to use in connection with the sacred festivities that took place annually at the sanctuary. It also appears that Andron C (a building within the temenos area of the sanctuary that is discussed in Chapter V) was actively used during this period, since over 20 bronze coins of the House of Constantine and one coin of Julian (as Caesar) were found within the building. From the preserved finds, it has not been feasible to discern the specific function of Andron C at this time. It seems that the amount of ceramic table wares dating to the earliest phase of the new-established chronology diminishes with regards to both imported and regional vessels. I interpret this as evidence of a decreased interest in the ritual feasting, which in the past had perhaps been the most important element of the sacred festival of Labraunda.

     A recorded drop in archaeological objects and architectural constructions dating from the 360s to the 390s characterizes the second period of the chronology. This fluctuation within the quantity of the material remains gives rise to a putative plunge in activity at the site, and it has been argued that this was caused by a series of severe earthquakes that are known to have struck the area during the 360s. It is also argued that this period witnessed the end of more organized polytheistic cults at Labraunda, even if small-scale, individual sacred practices may have continued for many decades.

     The third period dates from the 390s to the mid-fifth century. In this period the character of the ancient sanctuary of Zeus changes both in terms of spirituality and economy. Monotheistic Christians now fill the religious vacuum that followed the lessening of pagan activity at the site, and the Church appears to have “colonized” the remains of the former pankarion. Large investments were made at the site, which over time must have been an acknowledged node within the sacred topography of the area that was located between the neighbouring cities of Mylasa and Alinda. The two Churches that are discussed in chapters III and IV were constructed outside the temenos wall of the former sanctuary, which appears to be characteristic of Early Church construction at ancient polytheistic cultic centra. The West Church is dated from AD 406-408 to c. AD 425 by closed deposits; but it is assumed that the East Church, which is built directly at the Propylaea of the former sanctuary, was erected slightly earlier due to its strategic location – the construction perhaps began at the recorded increase of archaeological material at the very end of the fourth century. Organic material from a closed deposit inside the East Church has been 14C-dated to 340-425 Cal.AD, which offers a rough chronological reference.

     It appears as if Labraunda constituted an important, symbolic trophy for the Early Christian movement in its struggle against the traditional Hellenic cults. Not only were churches built within a couple of decades of each other during the early fifth century, but several Classical and Early Imperial buildings located around the East Church were also restored and adjoined to the Church. New annexes were also added to the Classical banquet building, Andron B. These are of a supposed domestic nature but a function as a sacred hostel has been suggested for the complex given that it has the same mosaic decorations as the Churches. Small finds also increase during the late fourth and early fifth centuries, and 12 coins from the reign of Emperor Arcadius (AD 395-408) have been found at the Churches and at Andron C. Both imported and regional ceramic fine wares also increase in quantity during this period, and the production of glass is recorded at the West Church Complex.

     During the fourth period of the chronology (c. AD 450-550), further economic networks seem to have developed. The increase in imported ceramic fine wares, and what are considered to be regional, inland imitations of the latter, has led to the assumption that, apart from its spiritual role, Labraunda also served as a trade emporium: a transit between the ports of Mylasa and Iasos by the coastal plains and the Karian hinterland which includes the cities of Alinda and Alabanda. This hypothesis is given further credibility by Labraunda’s location by the ancient Sacred Way, which was the major route between the coast and the inland until modern times. The quantity of imported and local fine wares is particularly high during the late fifth and early sixth centuries, during which time I also believe the site-bound Christian “mythology” evolved. The secondary water fountain inside the Parekklesion of the West Church Complex may have served as a hagiasma (a source of sacred water), and a supposed mausoleum (possibly of a martyr or regional saint) was constructed inside the Classical Oikoi next to the Temple of Zeus. This measure is interpreted as a final offensive act made by the Christians at Labraunda – a symbolic capture of the area which was the former cultic epicentre of their polytheistic opponents. The Tetraconch at the south-western perimeter of Labraunda also witnessed a major rebuild during the late fifth or early sixth century. Together with its adjoining residence, it is assumed to have been annexed by the West Church further to the south, possibly as a habitat of the resident clergy.

     The fifth period of the Late Antique chronology (c. 550-750 AD) displays many of the unfortunate stereotypes associated with the identification of the Early Middle Ages as “dark centuries”. Even though this period in general is under-studied and neglected, and probably considerably less “dark” than assumed, the period at Labraunda (especially from c. AD 600 to 750) exhibits a find-sequence comprising of only a few recorded objects: a sample representing tendencies that, in comparison to earlier centuries at the site, appears rather dark, or at least “less bright”. The recorded activity falls within the first century of the period. Coins of the late sixth century are recorded at the East Church and the reuse of the Tetraconch as a lime-kiln is 14C-dated by preserved charcoal to the period 535-610 Cal.AD. Even though we do not have closed deposits of the destruction layers of the Late Antique Churches, we have a relative date for a Byzantine Chapel at the West Church Complex (built into the nave of the earlier Church)- probably during the ninth century AD. At this time, the earlier Church was very dilapidated, which suggests that it had been out of use for perhaps a century. The East Church also has a recorded destruction layer, which is assumed to predate the 10th-11th centuries. Yet, what caused the destruction of the churches and the drop in activity at Labraunda during the seventh and eighth centuries? The reasons could be many and perhaps several parameters together contributed to the down-turn: for instance, the aftermath of the bubonic plague of the 540s, natural disasters such as earthquakes, and later, the recurrent Arab raids along the coast of Asia Minor. The archaeological evidence can only confirm the earthquake: the East Church exhibits a destruction layer east of the apse that was likely caused by an earthquake. The devastating end of the West Church (evidenced by massive destruction layers) especially within the Parekklesion, unfortunately does not offer a detailed testimony to the fate of this building.

     The two final phases of the new chronology date from the late 8th to the 13th century and witness some consolidation at Labraunda. Byzantine Chapels are constructed within the Late Antique Churches and an additional annex is built along the northern wall of Andron B. Byzantine coins of the 1060s-1070s provide a date for this construction. Late 11th- to early 12th-century crusader coins have also been found at Andron C and in the entrance area of the ancient sanctuary, which, together with contemporaneous Glazed Byzantine pottery, attest to increased activity. The Classical Akropolis Fortress, situated above the ancient sanctuary, was temporarily resettled - a habitation that was finally abandoned c. AD 1275, according to a forthcoming study by Lars Karlsson.

     Finally, I return to the question concerning a possible correspondence between the Roman metaphor of “the present” being as happy as the good old days, and the interpretation of Late Antique activity from excavated material remains. The different phases within the new-established chronological periodization (which was based on the quantitative fluctuations within the total find-sequence) undoubtedly show shifting tendencies. However, such oscillations seldom form antithetical situations of “upsurge” and “decline”. Still, in some periods more than others (such as AD 250-360 and AD 390-550) it feels relevant to recall the reading felicium temporum reparatio. It is perhaps sobering to consider that the eras of felix tempus that have manifested themselves amidst the soil strata of Labraunda, also transmit projections of strong activity at the site during and after the establishment of the Churches. The spiritual transformation of Labraunda from the polytheistic pankarion to a monotheistic Christian locus was, therefore - in terms of material culture - far from a decline.

West Church, aerial view from south east.

Labraunda ca. 300 A.D.