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Central Greece in Late Antiquity: The Evidence from the Boeotia Project

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AbstractOne of the most original discoveries of the Boeotia Regional Survey Project, begun in 1978, was that the countryside not only revealed a remarkable density of rural settlement in Classical-Early Hellenistic times, but also a second impressive flourishing of activity during the Late Roman period (ca. 400–600 A.D.).1 Equally interesting was that these eras were separated by a surprisingly severe demographic and agricultural decline in Late Hellenistic and Early Roman Imperial times. When the project turned its attention to the region’s urban sites, more surprising results emerged: conforming to the rural trajectories, cities generally shrank or were even abandoned in the Late Hellenistic-Early Roman period, but most failed to recover their Classical-Early Hellenistic extent in Late Roman times despite the apparent recovery of the countryside around them.2 However, as to the fate of town and country in the twilight, or so-called ‘Dark Age’ centuries of the 7th to 9th c. A.D., that intervened between Late Antiquity and the full emergence of medieval Byzantine civilisation in Greece, only hypotheses and a small amount of data have existed until the last few years. Now, new evidence has begun to cohere into a plausible historical scenario. In this paper I shall review the archaeological and historical data for Boeotia in order to build up a wider picture of Late Antiquity in the context of earlier and subsequent developments. The historical context and wider evidence from Greece for these eras have been presented in more detail in a recent monograph3


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