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The Rural Landscape and Built Environment at the End of Antiquity: Limestone Villages of Southeastern Isauria

Günder Varinlioğlu, University of Pennsylvania, Junior Fellow 2004–2005

During the academic year of 2004–2005, I worked on my dissertation entitled “The Rural Landscape and Built Environment at the End of Antiquity: The Limestone Villages of Southeastern Isauria.” In my dissertation, I investigate the character of rural settlement patterns, land use, and building practices in a marginal territory located in the hinterland of Seleucia on the Calycadnus river (modern-day Silifke in southern Turkey), the capital of the late Roman province of Isauria. I explore the transformations that the countryside underwent during the transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, due to the Persian and Arab invasions, the disruption and transformation of trade networks in the Mediterranean, and the plagues and earthquakes which struck urban centers from the sixth century onwards. In my study and interpretation of this period, which spans the period of the fourth century to the end of the first millennium, I use several types of evidence: ancient texts, accounts of travelers, epigraphy, and the archaeological data I gathered during two summers of fieldwork in the rural landscapes of Isauria. I focus on this particular territory in southeastern Isauria with a much larger goal of understanding regional dynamics which allowed the formation and viability of a dense network of settlements and intraregional communications in the late antique Mediterranean world.

At Dumbarton Oaks, I focused on two aspects of my dissertation. First, I studied the accounts of travelers from antiquity to the twentieth century using the virtually complete collection of ancient, medieval, and modern authors at the Dumbarton Oaks Library. Second, I worked on the new data I collected in the summers of 2003 and 2004, namely the architectural sculpture, masonry techniques, pottery, and settlements. I studied these in comparison to similar evidence from the larger region as well as from the eastern Mediterranean. In this part of my research, I made intensive use of the articles, books, dissertations, etc., dealing with similar material evidence from late antique and Byzantine Anatolia, the Levant, Egypt, North Africa, and Greece. The academic year I spent at Dumbarton Oaks allowed me to contextualize my research in the wider field of Byzantine settlement and landscape archaeology. In other words, I investigated the significance of southeastern Isauria within broader settlement patterns and networks in the eastern Mediterranean through the comparison of the material evidence from diverse sites and landscapes. My research attempted to answer to the need for new data and approaches in order to draw a more complete picture of Anatolian rural landscapes during the transition from Antiquity to the Middle Ages.

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