Hand-made vases with “a stuoia” decoration, from Rocchicella (CT), Sicily
There is no doubt that the Byzantine economy changed dramatically with respect to earlier times. Though very much a mixed-economy, the role of the State appears to have been fundamental in its adaptation and evolution so as to guarantee the survival of the Empire within a politically-divided and unstable Mediterranean.
It will be necessary to understand the environment and land-use as well as the role of both domestic and wild animal and plant species to the Byzantine economy, particularly through assessment of palaeobotanical and archaeozoological remains. There is still much to be discovered.
Recent work in the Salento, for instance, has shown butchery marks on equine bones dating to the 10th century, although hippophagy is held to be a recent practise. On the other hand, excavations in Lecce have shown the earliest large broad beans (a large variant of vicia faba minor) in the area to date to Norman times, perhaps suggesting an improvement in both the use of such beans in food and in nitrogen fixture in cultivated farmland after the end of Byzantine domination. As regards the production of goods, the technological level reached by various professions and diverse places will also be analysed. Both Syracuse and Taranto probably played a significant role in the manufacture of ‘luxury’ items (jewellery and other metal objects, books, silk, papyrus, etc.) as well as of day-to-day consumption (ceramics, glass, leather, bone and woodwork, textiles, etc.), but the general economic development of the people will have been based on the gradual diffusion of production (textiles, iron, copper, etc.) particularly in rural settlements. The appearance of the village blacksmith, for instance, appears generalised from around the 10th century, although this will have to be verified through the identification of dated furnaces and slags. Through comparative analysis of Byzantine and early medieval material culture, with particular reference to pottery, metalwork, glass, stone (millstones, architectural elements) attention will be focussed on the understanding of historical mechanisms of production/redistribution of raw materials and goods, as well as the detection of networks of goods, artisanal workers, as well as of technological transfer and taste and fashion
Lead-glazed ceramics (a vetrina pesante or ‘Forum Ware’), and particularly the rather particular chafing-dish, appear to have a marked distribution within the Byzantine Empire, perhaps reflecting a choice in cultural-specific ‘Byzantine’ dishes (the chafing-dishes recall the Turkish mangal). In Italy, apart from Rome, which was closely linked to Byzantium, chafing-dishes were manufactured in Sicily, in southern Puglia (Otranto) and perhaps in Naples.
Indeed, the study of ceramics is particularly important, as will be the definitive publication of the kiln site at Otranto.
The analysis of trace elements in ceramics through gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is important for the study of diet and society. If compared with faunal and floral studies and, preferably, stable isotope analyses of humans and animals, the analyses may indicatenot only what certain ceramics were used for, but also help understand the nature of the landscape and resource exploitation. The project intends analysing various ceramics, from the ubiquitous globular transport amphorae (which preliminary analysis indicates wine as the main contents), produced inter alia near Naples, at Otranto and probably in Sicily, to cooking pots that, together with contextual studies of the artefacts, will shed light on economy and nutrition. This method implies the study of sampled sites as case-studies for our interdisciplinary overview, so as to better comprehend the relationships between the objects and the political, social and cultural systems in which they were manufactured or used. Some limited use may also be made of thin-section analysis, if it will be necessary to try and identify the provenance of selected and significant ceramics or stone artefacts such as millstones.