Churches and Economy on Byzantine Naxos

The island of Naxos in the Cyclades has for long been renowned for its rich Byzantine heritage, and in particular the numerous, decorated churches. The settlement pattern of Byzantine Naxos has been far less studied. In 2010 an archaeological team from The Museum of Cultural History and the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History at the University of Oslo initiated a pioneer project of mapping and documentation of the most important of these centres, Kastro Apalirou.

Church and monastery of the town Kastro Apalirou, part of the Norwegian Naxos Survey 2010-2012. Photo: David Hill

The documentation of standing structures at Apalirou came to conclusion in 2012, with the discovery of a new byzantine church as one of the important results. A study of the economic significance of the byzantine churches on Naxos will form part of the Religion and Money Project at the Museum of Cultural History from 2013. It will also build on and be integrated with the Norwegian Naxos Survey - a collaborative project with Institute of archaeology, conservation and history, UiO.

A unique corpus

Naxos as a whole has a unique corpus of 148 byzantine churches many of which had their origins between the 6th/7th and 10th centuries. The early date of many of the churches, coupled with the results of recent ceramic surveys has the potential to provide clear archaeologically derived evidence of the landscapes and settlements of Naxos before the middle Byzantine period. Such evidence is found nowhere else in the Byzantine world.

Two churces and a monastery

Among the documented settlements of the Byzantine period, Kastro Apalirou in the southern part of the island stands apart. The project’s survey of the site has documented more than 75 houses, two churches, a monastery, between 40 and 50 cisterns, city wall and fortifications, internal road grid and drainage system. It is now evident that this was a town of a considerable size and very likely the main administrative centre of the island in the Byzantine period.

Naxos as laboratory

The settlement pattern as well as the churches provides a unique situation on Naxos. The main administrative centre was moved during the sixth century from the coast to the inland. The same period witnessed an unprecedented establishment of churches mainly located away from the coast. These changes must have had a massive effect on the economy on the island. A shift from a maritime, trade-based economy in a chiefly self-governed city, to an agrarian-based economy based on self-sufficiency in the inland and with a settlement under strong direct influence by the Byzantine power in Constantinople. The relocated central power in combination with the byzantine churches can be studied as mediators of belief, power and economy in the landscape. The unique situation makes Naxos a laboratory to investigate the very change from late antiquity to the medieval period.

Distribution of churches on Naxos in the byzantine period






















Key issues

  • The change from maritime-based trade economy to agrarian self-sufficient economy
  • The churches as mediators of belief, power and economy
  • Central power vs. fragmented power nodes in the landscape

Project leaders

The Apalirou Environs Project (AEP):

Churches and Economy on Byzantine Naxos:

  • Håkon Ingvaldsen, University of Oslo
  • David Hill, University of Oslo

Network and funding

  • The 2nd Ephoria of Byzantine Antiquities
  • Institute of archaeology, conservation and history, University of Oslo
  • Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo
  • The Norwegian Institute at Athens
  • The School of History, Classics and Archaeology, Newcastle University
  • The School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh
  • Archaeological Research Unit, University of Cyprus
Publisert 15. nov. 2012 21:09 - Sist endret 21. mars 2014 09:39