The Byzantine village at Supersano (LE), Puglia (reconstruction by Inklink, Florence)

The areas examined in the project benefit from a background of studies on late antique and medieval settlement. Many territories have been subjected to field survey, and excavations have helped characterise settlement types, building techniques, and material culture. Nonetheless, the continuation of research needs both to push the information past the 6th century (often seen as a breaking-point) and to overcome parochial visions so as to permit an integrated appraisal of the data. This necessitates a uniform formalisation of information so as to define and to compare settlement types (towns, farms, hamlets, villages, kastra, monasteries), their nature (urban centres, cult centres, elite centres, ports and harbours, emporia, manufacturing sites, agricultural settlements, etc.) and their role in communication networks. 

The question of towns needs to be examined so as to assess their original character in Roman times and to assess their subsequent levels of urbanisation, from Thematic capitals such as Reggio, to small entities such as Oria, near Taranto, object of recent excavations. Was, for instance, the rectangular enclosure, the so-called “Cittadella Nicolaiana”, in Bari , which recalls the 10th century “lower city enclosure” at Amorium, in Turkey, a typical ‘urban’ feature or an exception?

The study of settlement models, furthermore, must produce information on population dynamics. The decision to examine the entirety of Byzantine territories in southern Italy should help in the evaluation of analogies and peculiarities of trends in different geographical areas.
What, also, were the earliest villages like and when did they appear? Few have been excavated, and may not be representative.

Specific attention will also be given to the phenomenon of medieval cave settlement (often erroneously identified with coenobitic monasticism), a characteristic of most of the territories examined in this project. Although cave settlement and cave housing was a global phenomenon, diffuse in various moments of history and strongly linked to the geological formation of the land, Byzantine southern Italy is characterised by a high incidence of sites located in areas of karst geology, from Sicily to Puglia, where cave buildings (found in both urban and rural areas) probably coexisted alongside built structures. The absence of rigorous archaeological excavation of such sites does not allow an accurate evaluation of the phenomenon. There are no comprehensive studies of it, which is why the project aims at better understanding its chronologies and characteristics and its place within more general settlement patterns.

The study of building types and changes in construction techniques also require analysis. Apart from a generalised reuse of ancient Roman structures, the so-called “archaeological invisibility” of the early Middle Ages is partly due to a greater use of readily degradable materials (earth, wood, etc.) for new constructions during the second half of the first millennium. Only recently have excavations in Puglia (Supersano; Canosa)  and southern Calabria (Bova) shown the existence of sunken-featured buildings (SFBs or Grubenhäuser) in Byzantine times, a construction type that it has often thought to have been of ‘barbaric’ origin.

Work at Contrada Edera and Rocchicella and Mussomeli, in Sicily has, instead, revealed the presence of circular buildings with stone footings.

All these buildings are alien to what has been generally thought of as being Byzantine, so it is natural to question whether they represent imported types, perhaps reflecting population movement or if, indeed, they may have been typical, perhaps representing re-emergence of local traditions.

A substantial return to the use of stone, particularly squared blocks, and ceramic roofing tiles, needs to be better-dated and framed within the history of economic and technological development.