Department of Archaeology
   
   
  

Roman and Byzantine Butrint (Albania)

 

The Butrint Project was started in 1994 by Richard Hodges (now Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology). It is a multi-disciplinary and multi-period project involving archaeological excavation, field survey, environmental survey, archive research and geophysics. The project, under the aegis of the Butrint Foundation, also works towards the conservation management and promotion of the site. William Bowden of The University of Nottingham has been a member of the project since its inception, working on the Roman and late antique phases of the site, managing large parts of the excavation and post-excavation programme and playing a major role in the design of the new site museum.

Excavation of late Roman townhouse at Butrint

Excavation of late Roman townhouse at
Butrint

 

Overview

Project overview

Initial research was focused on the investigation of the late antique and medieval phases of Butrint and the investigation of its hinterland of the site which was remarkably free of modern settlement or agricultural development. This first phase of the project (published in Hodges, Bowden and Lako 2004) took the form of an assessment. Outside the walled town this involved field survey, environmental survey, and geophysics. Within the town itself, trial excavations were carried out on a late antique palatial residence (the triconch palace), around the great 6th-century baptistery and on a late Roman nymphaeum and cemetery area. Surveys were also carried out of the town's fortifications and churches. Among other discoveries this work revealed that the Roman town extended beyond the peninsula occupied in earlier and later periods, with a substantial Roman suburb developing on the south side of the Vivari Channel.

From 2000, sponsored by the Packard Humanities Institute, the project developed large excavation programmes in three principal areas: the triconch palace, the Roman villa at Diaporit and the Roman suburb on the Vrina Plain. More recently further excavations have also been carried out at other locations within the city including the forum and the western defences.

 

Project site

Where is Butrint?

Butrint is situated on a low promontory on the southwest coast of Albania. The abandoned ancient and medieval port is located 3 km inland from the Straits of Corfu in south Albania, located on and around a hill on a bend in the Vivari Channel, which connects the Straits to the large inland lagoon of Lake Butrint.

The site has been occupied since at least the 8th century BC, although myths associated with its origins speak of the city's foundation by Trojan exiles. By the 4th century BC a walled settlement was established and the city became a successful cult site, dedicated to Aesclepius. Augustus founded a colony at Butrint and the town seems to have remained a relatively small Roman port until the 6th century. Little is known of the site between the 7th and 9th centuries. Its later medieval history was turbulent as the town was involved first in the power struggles between Byzantium and successive Norman, Angevin and Venetian states and second in the conflict between Venice and the Ottoman Turks. By the early 19th century it had dwindled to a small fishing village clustered around a Venetian castle.

The walled city, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992, covers an area of c.16 ha, but geophysical survey on the eastern side of the Vivari Channel shows that at times in antiquity Butrint covered as much as 30 ha. Through the efforts of the Butrint Foundation, the World Heritage site was expanded by UNESCO in 2000 to encompass the whole area of the new Butrint National Park.

The Triconch Palace

The so-called Triconch Palace is a major Roman and late antique dwelling located on the shore of the Vivari Channel. Owned by a high status individual of senatorial rank (indicated in a mosaic inscription), the house developed from a peristyle domus to a major palatial structure, which included a grandiose three-apsed dining room (the triconch) at which visitors could arrive by boat. Following the abandonment of the complex c. AD 425, the area was used for small-scale occupation, processing of shell fish and other industrial activity before being used for burial until the mid 7th century. Renewed occupation in the late 9th century saw further habitation and burial use.

The result is a rich sequence of occupation stretching from the 2nd to the 16th centuries, which has produced significant assemblages of coins, ceramics, faunal remains and human skeletal remains, and provides key insights into the story of the town itself. Publication is ongoing with the excavated sequence appearing as Bowden and Hodges 2011 and a volume on the finds in preparation.

Diaporit

Diaporit lies around 2km from Butrint on the shore of Lake Butrint. First occupied in the Hellenistic period, it became the site of a major villa in the first decades of the 1st century AD. The villa was enlarged in AD 40-80, when its orientation was shifted so that it faced directly across the lake towards the town of Butrint. Arranged over a series of terraces, it including an elegant east wing with rooms decorated with mosaics and painted wall plaster and a west wing with a monumental nymphaeum set close to the water’s edge. The southern wing was dominated by a major bath complex that by the late 2nd century included an apsidal room with a cold plunge pool, a large hexagonal room and an elegant internal courtyard.

Around AD 250 the villa was abandoned but in the late 5th century became a Christian cult site focused on a basilica containing three marble-lined tombs in the apse. The church was accompanied by a small complex including an additional chapel and a bath-house, which is thought to be associated with the development of the site as a focus of pilgrimage. The site seems to have suffered a decline from c. AD 525 before being abandoned after AD 550. Interim reports were published in Bowden, Hodges and Lako 2002, Bowden and Përzhita 2004 and Bowden and Përzhita 2007, with final publication in preparation.

 

Publications

Selected publications for the Roman and Byzantine Butrint project

Books

2003: Epirus Vetus: The Archaeology of a Late Antique Province, London, Duckworth.

2004: (ed. with R. Hodges and K. Lako) Byzantine Butrint: Excavations and Survey 1994-1999, Oxford, Oxbow.

2007: (in preparation) (ed. with R. Hodges and K. Lako) Butrint: Excavations at the Triconch Palace, Oxford, Oxbow.

2008: (in preparation) (ed. with L. Pérzhita) The Roman and Late Antique Villa at Diaporit, Oxford, Oxbow.

Articles and conference papers

1997: "Urban transformation in Early-Byzantine Epirus: the example of Butrint", in G. De Boe and F. Verhaeghe (eds.) Medieval Europe Brugge 1997, Vol. 3, Zellik, I.A.P., 155-69.

1997: (with R. Hodges, G. Saraçi et al.) "Late-antique and Byzantine Butrint: interim report on the port and its hinterland", Journal of Roman Archaeology 10, 207-34.

1999: "The city in late-antique Epirus: the example of Butrint", in P. Cabanes (ed.) L'Illyrie Méridionale et l'Épire dans l'antiquité III.  Actes du IIIe colloque international de Chantilly (16-19 Octobre 1996) Paris, Boccard, 335-40.

2000: (with R. Hodges and K. Lako), "The Anglo-Albanian project at Butrint", Iliria 1998.1-2, 275-304.

2000: (with R. Hodges, O. Gilkes and K. Lako) "Late Roman Butrint, Albania: survey and excavations, 1994-98", Archeologia Medievale XXVII, 241-57.

2001: "A new urban elite? Church builders and church building in late-antique Epirus", in L. Lavan (ed.), Recent Research in Late-Antique Urbanism, Rhode Island, Journal of Roman Archaeology Suppl. Series, 61-72.

2001: (with R. Hodges, O. Gilkes, K. Lako and L. Pérzhita) "The Butrint project", Antiquity Vol. 75, no. 287, 25-26.

2002: (with R. Hodges and K. Lako) "Roman and late antique Butrint: excavations and survey 2000-2001", Journal of Roman Archaeology 15, 151-80.

2003: "The construction of identities in post-Roman Albania", in W. Bowden and L. Lavan (eds.) Theory and Practice in Late Antique Archaeology, Leiden, 57-77.  

2004: (with R. Hodges) "Balkan Ghosts? Nationalism and the question of rural continuity in Albania", in N. Christie (ed.) Landscapes of Change: Rural evolutions in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, Aldershot, Ashgate, 195-222.

2004: (with R. Hodges, O. Gilkes, K. Lako and L. Pérzhita) "Butrinto: l'archeologia di una città marittima", in G. Sassatelli (ed.) L'Archeologia dell'Adriatico dalla Preistoria al Medioevo. Ravenna, Centro Studi per l'Archeologia dell'Adriatico, 583-98.

2004: (with L. Pérzhita) "Archaeology in the landscape of Roman Epirus: preliminary report on the Diaporit excavations", 2002-3, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 17, 413-33.

2004: (with R. Hodges, O. Gilkes and Kosta Lako) "Introduction", in R. Hodges, W. Bowden and K. Lako (eds), Byzantine Butrint: Excavations and Surveys 1994-99 . Oxford, Oxbow, 1-19.

2004: (with J. Mitchell) "The Christian topography of Butrint", in R. Hodges, W. Bowden and K. Lako (eds), Byzantine Butrint: Excavations and Surveys 1994-99 . Oxford, Oxbow, 104-25.

2004: (with R. Andrews, O. Gilkes and S. Martin) "The late antique and medieval fortifications of Butrint", in R. Hodges, W. Bowden and K. Lako (eds), Byzantine Butrint: Excavations and Surveys 1994-99 . Oxford, Oxbow, 126-150.

2004: (with L. Pérzhita) "The Baptistery", in R. Hodges, W. Bowden and K. Lako (eds), Byzantine Butrint: Excavations and Surveys 1994-99. Oxford, Oxbow, 176-201.

2004: (with S. Martin) "Trial excavations within the city", in R. Hodges, W. Bowden and K. Lako (eds), Byzantine Butrint: Excavations and Surveys 1994-99. Oxford, Oxbow, 219-223.  

2005: (with R. Hodges) "Butrinto nell'Eta Tardo Antica", in P. Delogu and G-P. Brogiolo (eds), L'Adriatico dalla Tarda Antichità all'Età Carolingia. Atti del convegno Brescia 11-13 ottobre 2001. Florence, Insegna del Giglio: 7-47

2006: "Crete and Epirus: architectural interaction in late antiquity", in A. Di Vita (ed.) Creta romana e protobizantina III/1. Athens, Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Atene: 787-800.

2006: "Procopius' Buildings and the late antique fortifications of Albania", in R. Hodges and L. Bejko (eds), New Directions in Albanian Archaeology: a Festschrift for Muzafer Korkuti. Tirana, ICAA: 223-232.

2007: "Butrint and Nicopolis: urban planning and the 'Romanization' of Greece and Epirus", in I.L. Hansen and R. Hodges (eds) Roman Butrint, Oxford, Oxbow: 189-209.

2007: "Nicopolis: the ideology of the late antique city", in K. Zachos (ed.) Nicopolis II. Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on Nicopolis, Preveza, Actia Nicopolis Foundation: 135-149.

2007: (with J. Mitchell) "The Triconch Palace at Butrint: the life and death of a late Roman domus", in L. Lavan, L. Özgenel and A. Sarantis (eds) Housing in Late Antiquity (Late Antique Archaeology 3.2), Leiden, Brill: 455-474.

forthcoming: (with J. Mitchell) "Butrint", in P. Corby Finney (ed.) The Encyclopaedia of Early Christian Art and Archaeology. St Louis, USLM.

2007: (with L. Përzhita) “Diaporiti – una villa romana e un monastero tardo”, Groma: archeologia tra Piceno, Dalmazia ed Epiro 1, 101-106

2008: “Cristianizzazione e status sociale nell’Epirus Vetus tardoantico: le evidenze archeologiche”, Antichità Altoadriatiche. XXXVIII Settimana di Studi Aquileiesi (3-5 maggio, Aquileia-Grado), Trieste, Editreg.

2011. "Alien settlers consisting of Romans": identity and built environment in the Julio-Claudian foundations of Epirus in the century after Actium”, in R. J. Sweetman, ed., Roman Colonies in the First Century of their Foundation, Oxford, Oxbow. 101-116.

2011: (with R. Hodges) “Një periudhe akullnajore mbi Perandorinë Romake”, in S. Kamani, ed., Butrinti ne shekuj, Tirana, Albanian Heritage Foundation, 118-4

2012: (with R. Hodges). “An 'Ice Age settling on the Roman Empire': post-Roman Butrint between strategy and serendipity”, in N. Christie and A. Augenti (eds), Vrbes Extinctae: Archaeologies of Abandoned Classical Towns, Ashgate Publishing Ltd. 207-241.

 

Project team

Principle Investigator: Richard Hodges

The project has involved many people since its beginning, here are some of the specialists that have been involved:

Reconstruction of the late Roman townhouse at Butrint

The late 5th - century church at Diaporit, Albania. 

 

 

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Department of Archaeology

University of Nottingham
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