‘Profane’ Activity Amongst Pious Villagers: In pursuit of identity amongst smelting communities in Byzantine Serres and Drama, Macedonia
By Nerantzis Nerantzis
Assemblage: The Sheffield Graduate Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 10 (2009)
The current paper seeks to investigate the organisation of production at three smelting sites in Serres and Drama, Macedonia of the Late Byzantine period. An integrated methodology comprising site survey, historical accounts and materials analysis is proposed as a means to approach issues of labour mobilisation and the social status of the workforce. Documentary evidence from Athonite monasteries refer to local iron production in the region while in various Decrees it is stated that two distinct modes of production have been applicable concerning mining operations. These could be described as large scale operations managed by the state and smaller scale private ones managed by landowners or more rarely by villagers who owned a communal village territory. To cope with their remote situations miners-smelters adopted either a strategy of opportunity to secure a maximization of their resource gain, or a strategy of resiliency to survive under sudden environmental or politico-economic change. The corresponding archaeological evidence shows an apparent distinction between small scale, production at Katafyto and Vathytopos against large scale at Angistro. Such a picture might reflect significant differences in the administrative systems under which the smelters worked. These cases represent remarkable examples of identity expression through organising communal undertakings and despite their differences in practice, all smelters shared a common low social status of people pursuing a profane activity.