Land use and habitat

The Early Byzantine Countryside: land use and habitat
  In the fourth-century text of the Expositio totius mundi et gentium agriculture stands out as the economic backbone of a number of provinces: Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine exported wine and olive oil; Egypt, Sicily, Thessaly and Thrace were the granaries of the empire. Wine and olive-oil were often produced in barren marginal areas. In the arid landscapes of Palestine, namely the Negev desert, Samaria and the Golan. extensive stone walls, dikes and cisterns, ensured maximum use of land and best conservation of water. Likewise, the Limestone Massif of nothern Syria bears the remains of a flourishing rural society. Here, developpement was based on village settlements with well-built houses and impressive churches. Though dependent on cities to sell their products, villages remained largely unaffected by the rapid decline of urban life in the late sixth century. Indeed, the Syrian Massif continued to prosper long after Antioch and Apamea were destroyed by fire, earthquakes and warfare. The Hauran (Transjordan), Cilicia and Lycia (Asia Minor) show a parallel development, with villages still densely populated in the sixth century, and progressively abandonned as late as the tenth century.
  Archaeological evidence for land use in the eastern provinces comes mainly from these marginal areas. Much less is known of the fertile plains, which have been farmed without interruption for many centuries, and where hardly any visible structures survive. It is possible that much of the good land was occupied by large estates (villae) farmed by tenants (as opposed to the small-scale landowners and free peasants of the more secluded regions). Many suburban villas in the eastern provinces were indeed linked to the exploitation of estates. Relatively modest as compared to their sumptuous rural counterparts of the Roman west, they lie fairly close to towns, and were visited seasonally by their aristocratic owners who wished to inspect their flocks and plantations, to hunt, or to escape the heat of the city in summer.
  Suburban villas share the same characteristics as urban mansions Peasant dwellings were naturaly more rustic. They normally consisted of a number of superimposed units arranged within an enclosed courtyard: living quarters, storage rooms, stables, and sometimes an olive- or winepress. The more elegant houses have balconies, double windows, and peristyle courtyards, but even these lacked amenities such as baths and heating. In Cilicia, Syria, Palestine and Transjordan, where the rural habitat is well documented, houses were solidly built of local stone using the dry-stone technique. Stone carvings adorn the faŤades, and frame the doorways and windows. Another typical feature is the stone ceiling, made of rectangular slabs supported by arches or beams, the latter resting on stone corbels projecting from the walls. Interior partitions pierced by windows supported the weight of the ceilings, the windows serving as mangers or cupboards. Villages consisted of irregular clusters of houses, with narrow unpaved streets and few if any public buildings (usually a church or a synagogue).

See also: The villages of the limestone massif of Belus; Urban environment