Personal profile

Research overview


Rebecca joined the School of Classics in 2003. She is an archaeologist who specialises in Mediterranean archaeology in particular in Roman and Late Antique Crete, the Cyclades and the Peloponnese (especially Sparta). Her original research focus started with Roman and Late Antique art and architecture (in particular mosaics and religious buildings). Her work on Knossos and Crete led to application of ideas of Globalization and network theory (published in her book on Roman and Late Antique Crete and in an article in AJA). Thanks to funding from the AHRC she undertook a survey of the Late Antique churches of the Peloponnese in order to discuss (strategic) processes of Christianization and use of memory, space, place and displacement. The resulting work was published in the AJA and ABSA. In 2018 she was awarded a major Leverhulme prize which she used to complete the first monograph on the Cyclades in the Roman and Late Antique periods (forthcoming with CUP in 2024). In this research Rebecca explored the economy and society of the islands using network theory and ideas of insularity and resilience.

Areas of Rebecca's research also include archaeology and well-being. With Alison Hadfield she undertook a project on the value of haptic experiences with archaeology for well-being and esteem. This work has been the focus of publications (along with Akira O'Connor) and an impact case study.

Rebecca is currently seconded as Director of the British School at Athens. She keeps a close connection with St Andrews and continues to supervise St Andrews PhD students. She has started a new project on female social and geographic mobility of the 3rd and 4th century in the Eastern Mediterranean and also continues the work on haptic experiences with archaeology at the BSA. 

Research interests

Greek and Roman Archaeology. In particular globalization and Christianization of the Eastern Mediterranean. This has lead to an interest in Roman colonies, network analysis and understanding the topography and function of Late Antique churches. Roman and Late Antique mosaics and architecture. The topography of religious space. Past excavation projects include the Acropolis Basilica Sparta project with Evi Kastara and the Phylakopi (Melos) project with Michael Boyd & Neil Brodie and the Roman Kouphovouno Project.

Other expertise

Excavation, survey and post excavations skills

Future research

The Roman and Late Antique Cyclades: Networks, Economy and Religion


Recent research on the Mediterranean stresses maritime connectivity (Broodbank 2013 & Horden & Purcell 2000) and in the Neolithic and Bronze Age island groups like the Cyclades played key roles (Cherry, 1990 and Broodbank 2000). The Archaic Cyclades were at the forefront of innovations, particularly in art and coinage, and in Classical times they were crucial in political manoeuvrings. Yet in the Roman period they are seen to be backwaters. By the Late Antique period, little is known about the islands. Through the application of network analysis to Cycladic material culture, this project tests the common view that islands became more insular over time; it will be used as a means of countering the usual history written from anecdotes about pirates and exiles. This study will debunk the conventional assumption that the islands were marginal and uninteresting by examining two striking phenomena that demand explanation: economic efflorescence throughout the Roman into the late antique period, when other regions of the Aegean show signs of abatement and precocious Christianisation, well in advance of Crete and mainland Greece.


The Cyclades

There are some 30 islands in the Cyclades which are large enough to be inhabited; the largest of these are Naxos, Paros, Andros and Tinos. The prevailing view of the Cyclades in the Roman period comes from literary sources that assert their inaccessibility and insularity.[i] The image of remoteness was further enhanced by stories of pirates and Pompey’s efforts to eradicate them.[ii] It is not surprising therefore, that the islands were famed as places of exile, particularly in the Imperial period. While the view of the islands from the ancient sources is overwhelmingly negative, the modern perspective is also problematic, typified by the fact that it is difficult to ascertain to what province various islands belonged at different times (Sweetman 2015c).

While the tools of network analysis will be used to identify the key factors that determined the Cyclades distinctive trajectory in these periods this project will also deliver the first synthetic study of the archaeology of the Cyclades in the Roman and late Antique periods, capitalising on the recent surge in excavation and survey work on the islands.

Key research questions include:

  • In what ways were the islands networked to each other and the wider Roman world and how does this relate to their provincial status?
  • What roles did the islands play in the broader economic context of the Roman world?
  • How were the islands Christianized?


Network analysis measures levels of diversity and connectivity over a diachronic period, and networks can be static or dynamic.[iii] Networks are defined as the means through which information is shared and they can be created through personal connections (such as exile, tourism, religious experience) and/or may be organizational (such as trade or information exchange). Underpinning networks is the idea that wide scale communication between locations (hubs or nodes) will create further nodes; and this process is known as phase transition. Application of network analysis has been successfully undertaken in the Cyclades for earlier periods. For example in their study of Middle Bronze Age pottery in the Cyclades, Nikolakopoulou and Knappett (2005) have defined relationships between artefacts, people and space shedding light on the Bronze Age economy while for the Classical period Constantakopoulou (2007) has applied network analysis to enable a view of the islands independent from the more common Athenian perspective. This research seeks to examine Roman and Late Antique networks in order to understand a number of complex changes in these periods including the creation of a provincial system, economic growth and the spread of a new religion (Christianity).


Archaeological data

In recent years the Cyclades have been the focus of a number of rescue (Amorgos and Naxos) and research (Thera and Andros) excavations in addition to terrestrial (Melos, Keros, Kea) and underwater surveys (Polyaigos and Kythnos). Consequently, a significant amount of data covering both urban and rural space is now available, making an application of network analysis to the archaeology of the islands in the Roman and Late Antique periods not only possible but valuable.

Late Hellenistic and Roman Cyclades: Empire and Economy

Preliminary studies have shown the different roles islands can play in the wider network either through voluntary (such as tourists or pilgrims)[iv] or forced (such as exiles)[v] participation (Sweetman 2015). In this project, these studies will be developed through analysis of the epigraphic data (Mendoni and Zoumbaki 2008) to try to establish personal, economic and political connections. Analysis of portable objects including lamps, amphorae, imported and local pottery for ceramic supply patterns;[vi] will contribute to defining evidence for small world (local) and scale free networks (imperial participation). Alum production sites have been identified at Agia Kyriaki, Melos (Photos-Jones et al 1999) and Melian alum amphorae have been found as far afield as Italy. Empereur and Picon (1986) have located amphorae workshops on Paros and Naxos which enables the tracking of Cycladic amphorae abroad. New quarries have been identified on Naxos during recent survey work (Bruno 2010) and data suggests that the Parian quarries were more active in the Roman period than previously believed. I will endeavour to establish where these materials are travelling to in order to determine economic network connections. Furthermore evidence of connectivity will be shown through the work of craftspeople like mosaicists and architects. For example, the shared architectural form of the agora in both Ephesus and Thera suggest movement of people between key cities in Asia Minor and the Cyclades (Le Quéré 2011) which is further supported by epigraphic data.

The value of the application of network analysis is that it allows a textured view of the Cyclades as part of the Roman Empire; one which sees some islands (like Melos) actively participating, others being forced to engage (for example through accommodating exiles), while others may have been passively disinterested. Understanding network connections as manifested through church officials, local population or foreign pilgrims enables a fresh understanding of Christianization processes. Analysis of the material culture allows us to see whether connections were made through networks or a more pervasive presence.


Christianization in the Late Antique period

The perception of isolation in the Roman period has been steadfastly applied to the islands in the Late Antique period with the assumption that island populations cowered in the interior due to continuous raids on the coast by pirates, Goths and Arabs. However, even a brief analysis of the data available shows that in the Late Antique period the Cycladic islands were still booming.  

At least 41 churches are known from 12 islands and a brief analysis of the data available shows that in the Late Antique period the Cycladic islands continued to prosper, even when other areas in the Aegean did not. Excavations at the church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani at Paros indicate an early foundation date of 4th century, with a more significant Justinianic construction (Orlandos 1965). Literary sources tie this church closely to the Imperial family, with its foundation being linked to Agia Eleni. Other archaeological and literary data from the islands support the assertion of early and energetic Christian groups. The Christian catacombs on Melos were in continuous use from the 1st century until at least the 4th century. Literary evidence reveals early Bishoprics at Amorgos and Santorini. A number of Cycladic bishops (e.g. from Paros and Naxos) attended the early Ecumenical councils in the 4th and 5th centuries. Altogether, this evidence points to the likelihood that the islands were Christian centres early in the process of religious conversion, certainly earlier than mainland Greece and Crete. The reasons for this may be revealed through a study of the networks on a number of levels (political, trade, pilgrimage, craftspeople). It is my contention that the Christianization process was an emergent and peaceful one, the spread of which can in part be assessed through the identification of newly created hubs through the process of phase transition in the network. Using methodologies developed for analysis of church topography in the Peloponnese (Sweetman 2015 a & b) it will be possible to ascertain the progress and process of Christianization within the islands by establishing church location in relation to coastal or urban networks. Analysis of the epigraphic record including mosaics, church furniture as well as ecumenical councils should contribute will shed light on who may have initiated the church foundation, be it locally driven (Enthusiastic bishops or population) or at the behest of Constantinople. Other reasons for church foundation may be because they were on pilgrimage or trade routes providing a means for the spread of ideas, so portable goods like pilgrim flasks and amphora will be examined to assess further evidence for trade and communications. The reasons for the establishment of churches in certain locations may be determined through a study of church architecture, mosaics, lamps, pottery and other associated material culture. For example, pilgrimage sites may be evidenced through the presence of mensa martyris, specific graves or evidence for workshops/stores for creation and sale of religious paraphernalia.

[i] Catullus Carmina; Poem 4. 6-11.

[ii] Strabo Geography H. L. Jones. ed. (Cambridge 1924), VII.7.5. A number of inscriptions also refer to piracy in the Cyclades, for example, one from Tenos (IG XII.5.860) which mentions that the island was constantly being attacked by pirates.

[iii] Brughmans 2010.

[iv] Stark 2006 and Stumpf 2003.

[v] Braginton 1944.

[vi] Keros’ imported pottery showing contact with North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean (Archaeological Reports online R ID 2906 and 4284). Conversely evidence from sanctuary sites of Dionysus at Hyria and Demeter at Sangri on Naxos, indicate that in addition to locally produced lamps there were imports from Italy, the Levant and large numbers from Corinth (Bournias 2014).


Academic/Professional Qualification

BA; PhD; Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Member of Archaeological Institute of America (AIA); British School of Athens (BSA)

Profile Keywords

On Secondment: Director of the British School of Athens

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth


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