Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Medieval Chalcis and its Euboean Hinterland

This project aims to answer the following questions: how did the landscape and geography of the local surroundings of Chalcis impact medieval to early modern productivity, habitation, mobility and interaction in a wider sense? And where are such changes and continuations still visible in the landscape?

Joanita Vroom


Since 2013, a team from the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University has been conducting research in the modern city of Chalcis (or Chalkida) on the Greek island of Euboea. This study included the documentation of a considerable collection of archaeological material (pottery, glass, metal, bone, shell and stone fragments) from a rescue excavation at Orionos Street in the city centre. Accordingly, this project aims to investigate the role of ancient Chalcis (known in the past as Byzantine Euripos, Latin Negroponte and Ottoman Eğriboz) in the (inter)regional economy of the Aegean as well as its overseas connections beyond this region.

In 2021, a new fieldwork project (titled ‘Beyond Chalkida: Lansdcape and Socio-Economic Transformations of its Hinterland from Byzantine to Ottoman Times’, shortened to ‘HMC’) started to investigate the ties between Chalcis and its rural hinterland on Euboea island. This new project aims to answer the following questions: how did the landscape and geography of the local surroundings of Chalcis impact medieval to early modern productivity, habitation, mobility and interaction in a wider sense? And where are such changes and continuations still visible in the landscape? In the summer of 2022 (June-July), the new HMC fieldwork project continues with both intensive and extensive surveys (of, for example, towers, fortresses, churches, roads, and water systems) and the processing of the sampled finds. Subsequently, small excavations are planned for the near future.

Project description

These research projects are carried out under the supervision of Professor Joanita Vroom and project assistants Jonathan Ouellet and Dionysios Kalantzis-Papadopoulos of Leiden University. In addition, there are various (local and international) partners, experts and collaborations, among which the Netherlands Institute at Athens (NIA), the Ephorate of Antiquities of Euboea (represented by its director Dr. Angeliki Simosi and Dr. Alexandra Kostarelli) and the Hellenic Society for Near Eastern Studies (HSNES) in Chalcis (represented by its chairperson, Dr. Konstantinos Politis, and by Dr. Andrew Blackler).

Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman Chalcis was a major commercial hub and transit point in an interregional system of maritime networks wherein Greeks, Latins, Turks and many others travelled and traded. This urban centre housed not only several craft industries and a diverse, cosmopolitan population, but also functioned as a (re)distribution centre with close ties to settlements and markets in its rural hinterland and beyond. The main objective is to combine data from the previously executed urban excavation with gained insights from the new fieldwork project in order to start to understand local and regional relations between town and country in this part of Greece from Byzantine to more recent times.

Although knowledge of the history and archaeology of Byzantium and its material culture has increased over the last decades, the picture of Greek society and its economy during the Middle Ages remains far from complete. A clearer picture is needed of how urban places functioned as important cultural and administrative centres as well as industrial and commercial actors in the local and globalising systems of travel and trade.

Another goal of the new HMC project is to develop close relationships with local communities of the modern city of Chalkida and with inhabitants of surrounding villages to share information and document oral histories and local traditions. This effort aligns with the general aims of public archaeology in Greece, which strives for a more inclusive and diverse approach to the past and contributes to public engagement and education on Greek history, topography and material culture studies.

The first project entails a post-excavation investigation of archaeological material dug up during a rescue excavation in the city, which is now stored in the depot of the municipal archaeological authorities. The material is recorded in qualitative and quantitative ways, and its study involves an international group of students, historians, archaeologists, lab researchers, material specialists and other experts. The Orionos Street excavation yielded substantial material (mostly ceramics), which can be dated between Middle Byzantine to Early Modern times (roughly between the 10th-19th centuries). The research procedure of this project proved that it is highly effective in processing large amounts of finds in a limited amount of time and with few resources (in terms of workforce and facilities) at hand. The methodology is innovative because it differs from standard urban archaeological projects by moving away from (over)emphasising monumental architecture and focussing instead on objects of everyday life (such as pottery, glass, stone, metal, and bone finds).

The new fieldwork (HMC) project allows students to participate in intensive and extensive field surveys, enabling them to engage a vast landscape from many different perspectives. Students will experience the hinterland of Chalcis on Euboea island in all its different facets: from collecting the tiniest potsherd up to recording monuments and other features across the rural landscape. During the extensive survey, churches, towers, aqueducts and many other architectural remains from the past that are still visible in the landscape today will be mapped. During the intensive survey, new sites will be identified and classified. Artefact scatters and other material remains at these locations will be collected, processed, and documented. This new fieldwork project thus offers students an opportunity to get involved in interdisciplinary research. Many different techniques and methods are used, such as recording finds with a GPS and RTS, setting up a grid for field surveys and processing survey data. New innovative approaches will be used on-site, such as drones and recording data for 3D modelling.

Both projects are ground-breaking concerning student participation, because they are involved in many stages of archaeological research. Indeed, both projects offer students many opportunities to contribute to innovative archaeological studies and international scientific collaboration.

The first project aims to develop a well-documented framework of the excavated ‘Orionos Street’ material in Chalcis (including detailed classifications, photographs, drawings, and 3D reconstructions of the finds) to understand the typo-chronology of the artefacts and their provenances. This comparative foundation will help interpret the findings from the upcoming surveys of the new (HMC) fieldwork project, identify sites in the hinterland, and classify the diachronic exploration and habitation and their functions in relation to Chalcis.

Finally, all the recorded material (excavated and surveyed finds) will be prepared for publication in academic journals and monographs. The research results will also offer opportunities for thematic exhibitions and public lectures as part of a general outreach to Greek and Dutch audiences. So far, an experts workshop on the ‘Orionos Street’ finds was organised at Leiden University in 2017, which resulted in several academic publications and contributions to conference proceedings by Vroom, Van IJzendoorn and others.

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