Archive for ‘November, 2013’

A sixth-century mosaic map on the floor of Saint George church in Madaba, Jordan. Photo via Wikipedia Commons.

In the sixth-century city of Madaba , Jordan, a mosaic floor in Saint George’s church visually unites sacred space with the wider world—Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Nile River, the Dead Sea are all represented in stone tesserae. The map suggests both devotion and action. Christian visitors who caught a glimpse of this twenty-foot wide mosaic could direct their prayers to God, and the church itself would direct the pilgrims to the Holy Land. Its scenes include cityscapes and houses, bodies of water with fish and boats, people at work. The mosaic was designed from a combination of bird’s eye views and non-linear perspective, letting the visitor’s visual experience shift between omniscient narrator and active participant. According to tradition, Moses gazed at the Promised Land from the top of nearby Mount Nemo. Art historian Antony Eastmond surmises that the Madaba map allowed pilgrims to reenact Moses’ experience by standing in the church and gazing down at the floor map’s image of the Holy Land spread out before them.[1] Maps like this tend to provide an intangible link between the viewer’s body and physical experience and the wider, imagined world, highlighting their participatory nature.

Bridging the gap between tangible, ancient cartographic arts and digital manifestations of them is Measuring and Mapping Space: Geographic Knowledge in Greco-Roman Antiquity, curated by Roberta Casagrande-Kim and Tom Elliott. This exhibition at ISAW (NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World) explores the work of Greek and Roman geographers, known to us mostly through written sources and copies in medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. The show explores other objects, such as coins with depictions of places, and juxtaposes them with digital components, resulting in a thoughtful and multi-faceted exploration of human relationships and physical space.

Screenshot of The Digital Map of the Roman Empire on Pelagios.

Fast forward a millennium or so, and one of my favorite online maps is Johan Åhlfeldt’s Digital Map of the Roman Empire on Pelagios. This is the map that made me love digital maps. It includes the Madaba sites and many more. There’s also Antiquity À-la-carte, an interactive GIS application of the Ancient World Mapping Center. In Antiquity À-la-carte, features such as settlements and churches are elegantly placed on a map of the medieval Mediterranean terrain, demonstrating at a glance how ancient communities were connected by roads and rivers. Zoomable, beautifully crafted with open data, and well-documented, this map represents the kind of project that drives both scholarship and public knowledge. I should note that both of these are part of the Pelagios network, a collaboration of around 30 ancient and medieval studies websites that rely on Linked Open Data.

Screen shot of the "Mapping ORBIS" tab of the website.

A similar project, ORBIS, goes beyond map representation to interactive tool. Essentially ORBIS is a travel planner for the ancient world that was created by Walter Scheidel and Elijah Meeks with a team at Stanford University. It goes beyond visualizing the ancient world, allowing users to determine variables and make calculations. I’ve used it in my own research to estimate how long it would take a monk to get from Caeserea, Cappadocia  to Constantinople  (15.8 days by horseback and sea in the month of June, in case you’re wondering). It’s also a good pedagogical tool, as evidenced by John Muccigrosso’s blog post on teaching archaeology.

These were the maps that hurled me into the digital cartography rabbit hole, making me want to understand how these projects actually work. In a juxtaposition of art and science, cartographic projects reflect the thoughtful decisions and interpretative nuances behind representations of geospatial data.

In future posts, I’ll consider issues and research questions as well as tools for making maps. 

[1] Anthony Eastmond, The Glory of Byzantium and Early Christendom. (London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 2013), 108.

The following post is an abstract for my presentation at the 2013 Byzantine Studies Conference held at Yale University from October 31-November 3. For a complete schedule and compilation of abstracts, see the conference program.

An unusual tomb in Karabaş Kilise, a church in the Soğanlı valley.

Commemoration in Cappadocia: A Reexamination of the Tomb Chamber in Karabaş Kilise

A.L. McMichael (CUNY Graduate Center)

A tomb chamber hewn between two chapels in Karabaş Kilise raises questions about preparation for death and the nature of monastic commemoration in Cappadocia. The Karabaş complex is an irregular courtyard arrangement in the Soğanlı valley. Its main church is dated to c. 1061 based on a donor inscription, but the original decoration is probably from the early tenth century, and the remaining four chapels, including the tomb chamber, were dug after that. The church contains a number of burials, including below-ground and arcosolia types, but the tomb chamber is unique among them. A painted cross on the flat ceiling sanctifies the tomb space from above. A shaft accessed through a small window connects the tomb to the apse of the adjoining chapel to the southeast. This paper asserts that a reexamination of the chamber, particularly the window, is needed in order to more fully incorporate this space into our understanding of commemoration in Middle Byzantine Cappadocia.

Guillaume de Jerphanion documented the space in a more complete state, indicating a northeast wall with a small window (no longer extant), demonstrating that the tomb was originally connected to other chapels only by windows. Lyn Rodley recorded paintings and inscriptions before the northeast wall’s partial destruction in the1980s. Four monks, three of whom are commemorated with inscriptions giving the month and day of their death, are painted on the tomb chamber walls. The fourth is depicted in a bishop’s omophorion; his inscription explains that he worked here and died, but it is incomplete and gives no month or day. This could mean that he was the last of the group to die, or that the tomb’s use had ended by the time of his death. Rodley surmises that the windows may reflect the cavity’s previous role as a dwelling space, citing the more probable use of windows by the living (Cave Monasteries 2010). However Robert Ousterhout notes that it bears resemblance to a similar tomb in nearby Kubbeli Kilise and was likely for the burial of an important person (“Remembering the Dead” 2009).

Recent scholarship on multi-sensory worship and commemorative portraiture provides new contexts in which to study the tomb and its donor portraits. While the ceiling cross may have served as a devotional image for the monks in life, I argue that the sanctified burial space was kept active by sounds of commemoration in the memorial space. These activities may have included concelebration of the liturgy or relic collection after the monks’ death. In nearby Zelve, Saint Symeon’s cone (early 10th century) has a comparable ceiling cross and burials in its ground-floor chapel. Its personal/residential areas are dug from the opposite side of the cone and level off into another chapel and an upper dwelling. The excavation and decoration of these personalized chapels would be preparation for eternity, seeming to provide a haven for both the living and the dead.