The Soğanlı Valley is located in Yeşilhisar district of Kayseri (Kaisareia) in Turkey and is about 7 km west of the fortified stronghold named Zengibar (Kyzistra). It is suggested that Soğanlı was within the borders of the area that belonged to the theme of Charsianon; accordingly, the site was positioned near the route passing through the suffragan bishoprics of Cappadocia I, that is through Ürgüp (Hagios Prokopios) and Sobesos, and reaching at Podandos, a town associated again to the same eparchy which fell into the administrative limits of the theme of Charsianon . In any case, the valley is situated within an area of strategic importance . The valley has been mainly studied in terms of the iconography and style of the wall paintings of its churches. Yet, the donor and supplicatory inscriptions bearing the names and titles of the dynatoi-powerful say a great deal on the power balance, on the life and on the running of the settlement especially in the tenth century and beyond. Approaching it as a piece of land at the rural periphery, new questions emerge on the administrative connection of Soğanlı to the rest of the Byzantine Empire. Along with the inscriptions, its geographical position and the archaeological data on the usage of some of its monuments call for a reconsideration of the settlement as a whole in the light of a multidisciplinary approach, involving historical narratives, architectural traces, and an archaeological survey method (Fig. 1) .
The core area at the end of the valley, which the present study aims mainly to dwell on, consists of two branches that continue to west and northwest. However, its territory must have extended nearly to Yeşilhisar to about 10 km east, as evident by many rock-cut funerary chapels, monastic complexes and dwellings dispersed on the route in question . The picture drawn by Hamilton through the end of the nineteenth century testifies the fertility of an area of about 10 km. On leaving Yeşilhisar and leading to Soğanlı, Hamilton “entered a rich and well-cultivated valley, watered by the stream which supplied the gardens below, and in which, as [he] gradually ascended along its banks, [he] found more water at every step” . The huge agglomeration on the right to the entrance of the core area and the agglomeration at the junction of its branches display many units of various sizes and levels that connect to each other . Although the intended use of these agglomerations is hard to be known, the extended territory of Soğanlı surely fed a large population.
The core area encloses seven complexes two of which are clearly the dwellings of landowning magnates and two of which are monastic . Apart from the chapels of these complexes, there are twenty-one individual churches without an organic connection to them. At the junction of its branches the core area once held a masonry church which appears as a rare element in Byzantine Cappadocia. The presence of the masonry Ak Kilise is only known from a few photographs and writings of the travellers and scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Fig. 2) . Through the details on its architectural decoration, Ak Kilise is compared to the masonry churches of the early Christian period and dated to the fifth-sixth centuries . Especially the west branch is dotted with Byzantine wineries that stand individually on land, most of the monastic and domestic complexes possess their own wineries.
In small rock-cut Byzantine villages in Cappadocia, like Çavuşin and Zelve, similar agglomerations at their centre are considered as dwellings; these settlements lack the traces of the landlords and do not display a hierarchical organisation with their layout. Erdemli and Şahinefendi, coined as villages in literature, are settlements similar to Soğanlı where the social hierarchy is apparent with one or more courtyard complexes for the powerful landlords dominating the habitation area at the centre of the village. Mavrucandere does not hold a complex for a landowning magnate and is considered to be an agrarian village where organised vine cultivation was carried out by a rural elite family or small landowners.
In recent literature, Soğanlı is evaluated as a large agrarian village of the middle Byzantine period. Despite the lack of primary sources that record the Byzantine life of the settlement, the agglomeration of rock-cut units at the junction and near the entrance, the fertility of its territory still witnessed in the nineteenth century and the similar examples from the region affirm this evaluation. As its agricultural facilities, its geographical position and the traces of the powerful suggest, the site was an important periphery of the empire. Thus, the texts linked to Anatolia, such as the military treatises written between the sixth and tenth centuries, the legal compilation named Farmer’s Law from the period before the late ninth century and the legislative decrees of the Macedonian emperors of the tenth century, should be seen – more or less – applicable to the village of Soğanlı. From these sources one can observe that the villages and their inhabitants were among the primary targets of the enemy, and one can read the regulations and assessments on the village commune as well as on the preservation of the fiscal equilibrium of a village.
The centre of or an important location in a Byzantine village is thought to have been occupied by the village church. Masonry churches in the region usually dated to the early Byzantine period are rare and intriguing elements of late antique Cappadocia. They are dispersed on the landscape, their essence and usage can only be understood with the examination of the type of the settlement they are located on. It seems possible to superpose their rarity with an equally compelling institution of the same period, namely the office of the chorepiskopoicountry bishops. We do not have any archaeological and historical data to discuss this possible association further. Still, the presence of Ak Kilise as an example of rare masonry churches not only shows the ‘special status’ of the settlement in late antiquity but also foreshadows the importance of the site in the medieval period.
The aim of this study is neither to elaborate on the legal status of the Soğanlı Village, nor to analyse the actual meaning of the texts on the village commune and the powerful. Rather, it aims to set forth our efforts to interpret a settlement which stands on a crucial geographical position in central Anatolia and bears the traces of the powerful at the same time. The study intends to arrive at a proposition for approaching a rural periphery, and to draw a chronological frame of the life of a Byzantine village with its villagers, monks and dynatoi mostly by focusing on tenth and eleventh centuries.
The Tenth-Century Soğanlı Village
Although war and insecurity in the seventh century and onwards affected a population shrinkage especially on the borders of the empire, the entire erasure of settlements like villages was out of question; likewise, the disappearance of a prosperous rural economy and the shrinkage of agricultural activity did not mean the total absence of human settlement. The material and cultural basis for the middle Byzantine developments was formed by the continuity of settlement and socio-economic life in the early Byzantine countryside in Anatolia.
The continuity of human settlement in Soğanlı from the late antiquity on and the coexistence of the villagers and monks in the village in the tenth century is exemplified by the complex of Kubbeli churches. It is very close to and easily reachable from the habitation area at the junction of the branches (Figs. 3 and 4). It is dated to the tenth century by the style of the wall paintings of its churches. Together with the Kubbeli cones, the surrounding ones and an unpainted little church in the vicinity contain a great number of pavement burials, arcosolia and burial chambers on multiple layers, probably from subsequent periods. As Ousterhout has already noted, the upper church of Kubbeli II holds an isolated tomb which belonged most likely to a locally-revered holy recluse and attracted the further burials in this area. The spatial connection of a tenth-century wall painting to the same tomb clearly puts the tomb into the tenth-century. We can identify some of the believers buried in or officiated at the complex in the same century. Philikiane and Ioannes are the secular figures depicted in the upper church of Kubbeli II, they were most probably among the rural elite of Soğanlı. In all the three cones of the complex, the further supplications of monks and laymen are apparent through their portraits and invocations. Ousterhout urges on the visual relationship between the Kubbeli complex and the Karabaş complex on the opposite slope and interprets the former as the ‘cemetery’ of Karabaş in the tenth-century phase of the latter.
This approach attempts to construe the entity of Kubbeli. Still, there remain questions on the usage of the complex which stands out as a tenth-century formation subjected to the supplications of monks and laymen. The ensemble is very close to and within easy reach from the agglomeration at the centre, its location is almost like a ‘side street’ in the core area. The access to its churches is equally straightforward, not restricted with a gate or a courtyard. Besides, it is in a non-monastic setting, without a trace of utilitarian spaces, a rock-cut refectory or units to serve as monks’ cells. Herewith, the layout of the complex seems to have been in use by all the villagers and reserved entirely for a crowd of churches and all types of burials.
This open use of Kubbeli churches turns into a matter of interest because of its coexistence with the parish church of Ak Kilise simultaneously in function. The legislative act of Basil II (976-1025) in 996 provides answers to the nonmonastic setting of the complex together with the living space of the recluse, the coexistence of lay and monk supplicants and the intensity of burials. Accordingly, villagers put up chapels on their own lands and lived there as monks until the end of their lives. Basil II disapproved the seizure of these properties by the local metropolitan or bishop on the death of these villagers-monks. This seizure allowed the religious authorities to offer these chapels to the dynatoi as monastic endowments, which was a way of easy transfer of the village lands. These chapels were supposed to be restored to their previous owners and meant to be used under the authority of the village as communal oratories, with the same number of monks. The religious foundations the legislation spoke of were noticeably labelled by the emperor not as monasteries but as village chapels. In a fertile, agrarian settlement like Soğanlı, the founder of one of the Kubbeli churches (and of the complex developed around it), the ‘monk’ as the legislation states, was most likely a peasant at the same time who was an integral part of the human landscape he lived in, sharing the same livelihood with his neighbours. It must have been the presence of this ‘villager-monk’ that caused the complex to become the focal point of lay piety. The perpetuity of the complex is a consequence of the legislative attempt to thwart the religious or lay magnates from seizing the village land and to allow the persistence of the churches open to the use of the villagers, surrounded by a cemetery that set the scene for the commemorative rites of the peasants.
The Dynatoi of the Village, Basileios and the House of Skepides
The legislative decrees of the Macedonian emperors on land demonstrate the tenth-century presence of the dynatoi in the Byzantine countryside and suggest that they were seen as ‘threatening force’ on both the sustainability of the rural fiscal system and the central power of the empire on the village communes. In his novel dated to 934, Romanos I Lekapenos (920-944) defined the dynatoi by their positions in the military, civil and ecclesiastical hierarchies in the state or as great landholders. Thus, whoever commanded the army would continue to threaten the emperor because power remained vested in the army. Land meant power too as the taxes produced by land were in the basis of the fiscal system. Frankopan stresses that land also affected social relations, since land endowment to the high-ranking military, magnates and the loyal ones marked an expression of imperial authority. In the tenth century and beyond, the cultivation of new lands and economic income they yielded brought about the creation of new and smaller villages. According to Lefort, economic yield from the land was seen as too important a matter to be left in the hands of the peasants themselves. In our point of view, all these facts as a whole provide the best answer to the question why there existed so many dynatoi in Cappadocia while there were so few towns in the region.
The first mention of a dynatos in Soğanlı comes from a donor inscription dated to the first decades of the eleventh century (Fig. 5). The inscription in the south church of the complex of St. Barbara dates the wall paintings to the years 1006- 1021, and thus to the era of co-emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII (sole emperor between 1025-1028). One of the missing parts in the inscription lies behind the different comments on the title of the donor Basileios, giving him a military or an ecclesiastical office. As it will be argued, it was again a military man who was endowed with or settled in the village after the donor Basileios; and this shows that the settlement had already been a part of a territory in need of military control and that it carried its crucial essence through the eleventh century and beyond. Such an approach further affirms the identification of the donor as a military domestikos.
A supplicatory inscription in the Geyikli Monastery once belonged to Ioannes Skepides, the protospatharios epi tou Chrysotriklinou, hypatos and strategos. A donor inscription in the north church of the Karabaş complex belonged to another dynatos from the same family. Accordingly, the church was embellished with wall paintings in 1060-1061 in the era of Constantine X Doukas (1059-1067) under the support of the donor protospatharios Michael Skepides‚ and it names two further supplicants, Catherine the nun and Nyphon the monk (Figs. 6 and 7).
The Donors’ Chapel to the immediate east of the complex of Karabaş and the monastic complex of Canavar at the end of the same branch are also associated with the family of Skepides (Fig. 8). As the inscriptions of the supplicants indicate nothing on their relation to the family, the association stands mostly on iconographic and stylistic ground. As it will be discussed later, the Skepides family most likely remained in Soğanlı through the end of the eleventh century and beyond, which makes it plausible to identify the donor Eudokia in the north church of the Canavar Monastery and the family in supplication in the Donors’ Chapel as the members of the same household.
We come across with the same family name in a decree on land in the katepanate of South Italy in the eleventh century. The decree was signed in 1042 by a certain Eustathios Skepides, the strategos of Loukania in the katepanate. When the political and military events in the katepanate around the mid-eleventh century are examined, Georgios Maniakes stands out as a remarkable contemporary of Eustathios Skepides as a victorious general in Asia Minor and South Italy. The careers of these two military men seem intermingled; furthermore, we can try to render the presence of the Skepides family in the eastern countryside in the light of the rise and fall of Georgios Maniakes.
In the early 1030s, Georgios Maniakes served as a prominent soldier as the strategos of Telouch (Dülük) and was the re-conqueror of Edessa (Urfa). In 1038, he was appointed to the command of the katepanate as its commander in chief (strategos autokrator) with the aim to lead a military action to capture Sicily. Although the family origins are unknown, Maniakes possessed estates in the Anatolikon theme and was the neighbour of his ‘natural foe’ Romanos Skleros‚ and apparently equal to him in power and esteem. It is true that this report of contact with Skleros – a member of another notable Anatolian family – sounds a negative one, Maniakes is still a good example of a dynatos who had power due to the reputation gained through distinguished service, together with land and family connections in the provinces. Apparently, Maniakes had always been considered as a ready force: even after he had been falsely charged with treason in the first years of the 1040s, he was released from prison by Zoe and her adoptive son Michael V (1041-1042), and sent to Italy in 1042 with the title of magistros and katepano of Italy this time.
Then, who was strategos Eustathios Skepides, the contemporary of Maniakes in the west and a member of a military and landowning family in the east? Unfortunately, primary sources are silent, which makes us bring mainly a general reasoning into the forefront. Falkenhausen notes that many of the katepans and strategoi of South Italy came from the highest level of the Byzantine aristocracy and lower nobility; she lists Eustathios Skepides among the latter. She underlines that while minor military positions in South Italy were held by local people, senior officials such as the katepano or strategos were appointed directly from the capital. Surely, strategos Eustathios Skepides constituted another reliable, remarkable and ready force enough to be sent to Italy as a high-ranking officer.
Could Eustathios Skepides, as one of those under the authority of the katepano Maniakes, be one of the soldiers who got involved in his actual rebellion against Constantine IX (1042-1055) in 1043? The uprising ended with the beheading of Maniakes and the denigration of the rebels; however, some of the rebellious commanders continued in imperial service. Thus, the rebellion against Constantine IX did not necessarily cause a fall from favour. Still, one should remember that the Skepides household continued to control an important northsouth route at a strategic geography in the eleventh century; it would be relatively difficult for a rebellious household to sustain on an important route throughout the century. Though there exists no written evidence in the valley to show his existence or his then active military task‚ Eustathios might have been endowed with the village land or have settled in Soğanlı as a prominent and ‘famous’ member of the family with the village in his possession and control in the 1040s. Two interrelated questions appear on whether the military domestikos Basileios was a member of the Skepides family, and whether the two households (of Basileios and Skepides) were simultaneously in the valley. We cannot take the first question any further than assuming that a military from an important family would prefer to inscribe his family name especially when the other members in the east and west of the empire chose to note theirs. This assumption is, of course, rather tentative. Although this matter remains without a concrete outcome, the military and economic control of the periphery of Soğanlı might have required the shift of the former dynatos to another post.
Two domestic complexes in close proximity to each other to the east of the complex of St. Barbara are the architectural traces that testify the presence of the powerful in Soğanlı. Because of its visual relationship with the Geyikli Monastery on the opposite slope, one of these complexes – the so-called Soğanlı Han – is alleged to be the dwelling of Ioannes Skepides, the donor of the monastery. To the immediate west of the Soğanlı Han is the another (West) complex whose definable units are a kitchen‚ a winery‚ a stable and three huge rectangular halls giving passage to one another; on the contrary to the former, the West complex is not in a well-defined courtyard and has no church attached to it. What is actually intriguing about the two complexes is their exact location on the village land. They are not nearby the centre of the village or at any other point on the road reaching at Kyzistra to the east; they lie at the end of the valley and at the furthest end of the western branch which preserves another inward route to Mavrucandere and to an outpost. This layout suggests a strategic idea behind to make the access and arrival of an outsider to the mansions more difficult and to remain closer to a possible route of escape. Such a double function of positioning of the complexes can be associated with the offices of the landowning elites who used them. It remains difficult to assert which one of the complexes was cut earlier or whether they were cut simultaneously, and which household they belonged to or whether they were used by the two households respectively. However, with both their inner organisation and their layout on the village land, they set clear examples for the evaluation of the way of living and mentality of the dynatoi in the countryside.
Final Words and Conclusion
Military treatises of the middle Byzantine period name forts and outposts to hold control of the frontier and to dynamise the defence and offence effectively. One of the important military support in the eleventh century must have been settled in and around Soğanlı to form enough military backing on the route coming down from Kaisareia, leading to Tyana (Kemerhisar) and Pylai Kilikias (Gülek Boğazı). Kyzistra, the fortified stronghold to about 7 km east of Soğanlı, constituted a part of the chain of forts which strengthened the terrain that was naturally barriered by mountains and fortresses. The presumption that Kyzistra, like most of the fortified strongholds on the main route often were, was the seat of a military overlaps well with the presence of domestikos Basileios in Soğanlı at the beginning of the eleventh century and of the military members of the Skepides family later in the century.
In light of the foregoing, the narratives on the advance of the Turkmen warriors as far as Kaisareia in 1067-1068 suggest a faint possibility that the family of Skepides was one of the parties of the encounter between the warriors and the Byzantines: after attacking the vicinity of Melitene (Malatya), the Turkmen warriors raided Kaisareia; “on their way back, they passed through the narrow passes leading into Cilicia”. It is a testimony which brings to mind the north-south route coming down from Kaisareia, and which suggests that the Skepides family was among those who could not suppress the attack. About 12 km north of Soğanlı is the Erdemli Valley, a Byzantine village hugely based on wine production. Basilikos kandidatos Basileios Tigori, whose name is attested in one of the churches in Erdemli, was another military dynatos inserted once again into a valley in the eleventh century as additional support on the same route and surely with a guarantee of income earned from the arable land. Thus, Erdemli and Soğanlı are the clearest examples of how the village settlements could become the military components of the imperial power as a part of a political attitude.
The thirteenth-century paintings of the funerary south chapel of the Canavar Monastery testifies the continuity of a Rum community, the endurance of wealth and means of well-to-do inhabitants to patronise the decoration, to support a monastery and to use the monastic complex within a funerary context. Apparently, while the penetration was faster in the main cities like Kaisareia, rural sites were affected more weakly by the Islamization; this phenomenon is further proved by the vast corpus of the thirteenth-century wall paintings in Cappadocia. The continuity in the thirteenth century makes the reader wonder if the Skepides family was deported from Soğanlı immediately after the emergence of the first Turkish principalities and the establishment of Turkish-Muslim political entities in Asia Minor after Manzikert. It is difficult to answer this question as there are no primary sources that mention the family after the eleventh century. After Manzikert, a considerable part of indigenous rural population remained in the very heart of Cappadocia especially in the arable parts of the region; likewise, there were native notables and semi-autonomous landlords who continued their existence at the side of the Muslim masters. In the late eleventh century, the Danishmandid principality appeared in Cappadocia where a new structure arose in which native Greeks, Armenians and the Danishmandids were living together; it was a political and cultural pluralism one of the best examples of which was the bilingual coins of the Danishmandids. At this point, it seems reasonable to allege that in a relatively isolated and secluded stage like Soğanlı the alreadysettled notable family (i.e., ‘ex-dynatoi’ members of the Skepides family) carried on its presence as a local lord, unless the Danishmandids-Seljuks preferred another ‘ally’ to resettle into the village.
From late antiquity on, Soğanlı was surely one of the important constituents of the countryside whose features and essence can be conceived with the help of archaeological and historical data. The parish Ak Kilise at the centre, a rare and problematic element of the region, shows how a distinct status it had already in late antiquity and its ongoing regard in the medieval period. With traces of the dynatoi clearly linked to the geographical position and fertile territory and with marks of laymen and villager-monks, Soğanlı appears as an organised village that sustained its entity through the medieval period. Together with the monks and laymen, one of the pillars of the community in Soğanlı was most probably the military manpower, which makes it a sort of ‘military base’. The affinity of the settlement to the main route, an outpost to the northwest, a stronghold to the east and narratives on the military encounters in the region suggest the never-ending strategic importance of Soğanlı as an indispensable location for the defence of Kaisareia. This strategic importance fits in well with the Arab campaigns in Cappadocia in the ninth and tenth centuries; furthermore the inscriptions and the overall layout of the settlement reflect its character as a ‘military base’ that was further strengthened against Turkish expansion in the eleventh century, although it apparently proved useless. Soğanlı also became a territorial unit which possessed a reciprocal network with several economic and political structures. The military owners of the two mansions surely settled near the point they were charged to control where they had collective power of both geography and arable land to maintain their economic welfare as well. The allocation of the territory of Soğanlı to the military reciprocally ensured the increase of both the agricultural income and artistic production in the region. Such a huge number of monastic, domestic and burial complexes and chapels in the village cannot be kept separate from its dynatoi, rather they must be considered as the products of their manner of life and way of thought. The already-settled family of a certain power and income most probably endured as the notables of the region after Manzikert and within the changing power balance.
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