BSR Online Lecture | Searching for identity: Byzantine southern Italy


Paul Arthur (Salento)

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There is abundant literature on the Byzantine reconquest of Italy in the 6th century and on the transition from late antiquity to the Middle Ages. Paradoxically, despite various historical contributions on the long period of Byzantine domination in the South, from the 6th to the 11th century, there is a lack of archaeological studies that propose an integrated overview. This is unfortunate, as the centuries were formative in the definition of southern Italy, helping to make it what it is today. This can be seen in many aspects of the country, including settlement patterns and communication, food and language, culture and traditions and, apparently, genetic makeup and mentality.

With these problems in mind, I applied for a major funding to the Italian Ministry of Education, which was awarded for the project entitled “Byzantine Heritage of Southern Italy: settlement, economy and resilience in changing territorial landscape contexts”.

The aim of the project is therefore to provide a panorama of the Byzantine heritage and its role in the formation of society across southern Italy, proposing to make different sources (archaeological, documentary, climatic and environmental, anthropological, genetic) interact in a systemic way through a database linked to a GIS platform. Even if we may speak of this large territory as a political significant entity in Byzantine times, it was constantly changing in size and boundaries, and in social composition through politics and mobility. Thus, it was also somewhat of a palimpsest. The examination of the ‘Byzantine Heritage of Southern Italy’ is thus an examination of differences and contrasts, in which we will explore and characterize unity in disunity.

The ultimate aim of the project is thus to rewrite part of the history of Italy from a new point of view, enhancing the vision of the South in its role as a geographical centre of the Mediterranean and key territory to the survival of the Byzantine Empire through a global analysis of interconnecting data.

Furthermore, the project intends to play an active role in the communication and dissemination of research results to the general public in line with modern trends of ‘public archaeology’. Therefore, the processing of information, in addition to normal scientific outlets, involves public presentation and the involvement of schools, in order for it to play an active role in disseminating knowledge so as to impact on local understanding and international tourism, thus reinforcing unity and identity.

After conducting excavations in Fulham in 1972-3, Paul Arthur decided to read archaeology upon leaving school. At the Institute of Archaeology, London, Paul thus received the degrees of BA and PhD. After a brief mission to assist Lady Olwen Brogan in Libya, he was invited by Prof. Fausto Zevi, the then Superintendent, to conduct excavations in Pompeii in 1980-1981. He was appointed Rome scholar in Archaeology at the BSR in 1981-1982. As a result of necessary post-seismic reconstruction after the 1980 Irpinia earthquake he was entrusted with excavations in Naples between 1982 and 1986, contributing to the development of both urban archaeology and medieval archaeology in southern Italy. Later projects include the survey and excavation of the medieval Salento (Southern Puglia) and work in Israel, Turkey and the Ukraine.

Paul has held various teaching appointments, at the University of Salerno from 1985-1987, and at the University of Lecce (now Salento) since 1990, where he currently holds the Chair of Medieval Archaeology. He directed the Post-Graduate School of Archaeology in the years 2013-2019.

In 2018 Paul was elected President of the Italian Society of Medieval Archaeology (SAMI). He is also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and member of various learned societies, having also been nominated Associate of the Board of ICMA (International Center for Medieval Art) in New York in 2005. He is also a member of various editorial committees in Italy and abroad.

Research interests include the study and reconstruction of Byzantine and later southern Italy, public outreach and museum planning and, as somewhat of a sideline, French art nouveau.

To date there are almost 300 publications to his name, including the following books:

  • P. Arthur, G. Marsh (eds.), Early Fine wares in Roman Britain, BAR, Oxford, 1978.
  • P. Arthur, Romans in Northern Campania, British School at Rome monograph series no. 1, London, 1991.
  • P. Arthur (d.), Il complesso archeologico di Carminiello ai Mannesi, Napoli (scavi 1983-1984), Congedo, Galatina, 1994.
  • P. Arthur, Naples from Roman Town to City-State: an archaeological perspective, The British School at Rome monograph series no. 12, 2002.
  • P. Arthur, Byzantine and Turkish Hierapolis (Pamukkale), Ege Yayinlari, Istanbul, 2006.
  • P. Arthur, B. Bruno, Alla scoperta di una Terra Medievale, Muro Leccese, Congedo ed., Galatina, 2007.
  • P. Arthur, French Art Nouveau Ceramics. An illustrated dictionary, Ed. Norma, Paris, 2015.
  • P. Arthur, B. Bruno, S. Alfarano (eds.), Archeologia urbana a Borgo Terra, Muro Leccese, volume I, All’Insegna del Giglio, Florence, 2017.
  • P. Arthur, The Magic of Sèvres 1900, Robert Zehil Gallery, Monte Carlo, 2020.