Sunday, April 29, 2012

New discovery in Messenia - a temple to a god of war?

Greek archaeologists have revealed the existence of a new temple in Messenia, dating back to the late 6th/early 5th century BC.  Between Elis and Messene, on the opposite side of the valley to the famous temple of Apollo, the remains have been found at an altitude of 1000 metres. The temple is reached by travelling along seven kilometres of dirt track above the village of Upper Melpeias to the site of the chapel of Prophet Elias, and has been identified by Dr. Xeni Arapogianni, former head of the 38th Ephorate of Antiquities.
Photo showing two phases of the temple from To Vima
The temple, which now exists only at foundation level, was discovered through the identification of a number of architectural fragments visible on the surface. It is thought by Dr Arapogianni that the fragments were scattered when the temple was demolished to build a later version.
The fragments were first discovered in 1995 but excavations began only in 2010, and revealed not only the existence of the temple but a number of exceptional finds including pottery, bronze objects and a large number of iron weapons (particularly spearheads). It is thought that the weapons had been dedicated at the temple.  One significant find is a bronze statuette of a naked male, possibly a warrior as he holds a spear in one hand.
Photo To Vima.
Dr Arapogianni considers that this is evidence for the temple being dedicated to a deity of war. However, the fact that the temple is visible from the temple of Apollo on the opposite hillside and the similarity of the offerings found there gives rise to a range of possible attributions, including a war god, but possibly Artemis or Athena.
A terrace on the top of the hill was leveled to accommodate the structure, which is estimated to be around 23 meters long. The maximum extant dimensions are 20.65 × 10.75 meters and the thickness of the walls ranges from 0.80 to 0.90m. A portion of the east wall has been completely destroyed because it served as the foundation of the Christian church.
The interior of the main structure revealed a smaller building of 15.60 × 2.18 metres constructed from stones without any mortar, the east side of which was also damaged. The floor of the temple consisted of small blocks with mortar.
Arapogianni thinks that this small structure was the first, archaic, temple dated to the end of the 6th century and the one that was later dismantled, resulting in the outlying scattered architectural fragments.  She thinks that it was probably built by the Spartans, the conquerors of Messenia, and perhaps the locals were responsible for the building of the larger, later temple once they had thrown off the Spartan yoke.
Finds include copper bracelets ending in a snake's head, a bronze bowl embossed with a representation of a woman holding a branch, iron studs and utensils and what appears to be a bronze handle ending in a lion's head. There were also iron weapons and at least 20 spearheads. A dedicatory inscription on a clay vase reveals ‘ANETHEKEN’.
However, a puzzling fact is that although stone metopes, triglyphs and cornices have been found, the site is so far lacking columns or capitals.  One possible solution would be that wooden columns were used, but this would make the temple very rare at this date.  It is hoped that further research will shed light on this mystery.
Architectural fragments showing triglyphs, To Vima.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Latest finds from Sozopol in Bulgaria, ancient Apollonia Pontica.

I previously reported on the excavations taking place at ancient Apollonia Pontica, modern Sozopol in Bulgaria. Recent developments include the arrival of a French team (in particular ceramics specialists) to work alongside the locals on excavations in the city, including contexts from the founding of Apollonia in the 7th century, through its development as a city important for maritime trade, to a Christian centre. 
Teams at work by ancient city walls. Photo by
On 2nd April Dimitar Nedev, Director of the National History Museum announced some interesting finds from the excavation at the ancient fortress gate of Sozopol (see my post of 29 December 2011). The finds include a gold ring with a semi precious stone, and a gold leaf from a wreath.
The ring is thought to date from the Roman era (1st – 4th century AD) according to Professor Dimitrov. Evidence for the dating has not yet been announced, but the stone may give a clue. The Romans liked to include gem stones or even coloured glass in their jewellery, introducing decoration via the gems, whereas in previous periods it was the workmanship of the gold itself that was important, with methods such as the use of granulation and filigree, and the occasional use of enamel to provide colour. The Hellenistic period sees the use of some gem stones, but they become the staple decorative element of Roman jewellery.
Typical Roman ring with coloured glass
 The gold leaf, from a crown or wreath, is dated to the 4th – 3rd century BC. During the late classical and Hellenistic period, gold wreaths of varying size and splendour were made for both funerary and celebratory use.  The most famous such wreath is the one that was discovered in the tomb of Philip II, a beautiful rendering of oak leaves, acorns and even insects so delicate that it quivers as one passes it in its display case at the wonderful museum. It seems to have graced the head of the deceased king Philip as he was cremated, and was placed in the gold larnax with his burnt bones. 
Gold wreath from Tomb II at Vergina
Other, more robust and less intricate, were clearly made to be worn during the life time of the owners, but as a prized possession found their way into the tomb of their owners. The presence of the wreath in the royal tombs at Vergina shows that they were, on occasions, worn as the modern equivalent of crowns, but we know from both archaeological and literary sources that ownership of such ‘crowns’ were not restricted to royalty. They may, for example, have been awarded for services to the city.
One of the most famous speeches of the Athenian orator Demosthenes, known as ‘The Crown’ was a result of a proposal, in 336BC, that the city of Athens honour him for his services to the city by presenting him, according to custom, with a golden crown, and an ensuing political wrangle.
We may never know to whom the fragment of the gold wreath belonged, but it is at least an indicator of the wealth and sophistication of Apollonia Pontica in the late Classical/Hellenistic period.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A sanctuary of Asklepios discovered at Daphnous

Archaeologist Maria-Fotini Papaconstantinou recently revealed details of a sanctuary of Asklepios discovered in the 2005-2007 construction of the Patras-Athens-Thessaloniki-Evzonoi Highway in the area of the Malian Gulf.
Aerial view of site and road construction
Unfortunately, the site was discovered at a very late stage during the construction of the road and Papaconstantinou’s team had to “race against time” to excavate, record and relocate the finds before the bulldozers moved in. “It was just before the deadline for excavation when we would have had to hand over the site to construction,” she said.  The excavations were carried out at speed, with the work being completed in six months. The remains of the sanctuary were transported stone by stone to an adjacent site and a restoration and presentation project followed.
The sanctuary was part of the ancient city of Daphnous that was located at  "Isiomata" in hills to the south of Aghios Konstantinos in Phthiotida. The modern town is identified with the ancient city’s harbour and is on the Euboean sea some 200 kilometres north of Athens, near the city of Lamia. The city of Daphnous was possibly occupied in Archaic times, with occupation continuing into Classical times. By the time of Strabo, who suggests it was founded by the Phocians (9.3.17), the city was in ruins. In fact, not a great deal is so far known about Daphnous, whether it was a originally Phocian or Lokrian city, but certainly it came to be known as a city of the Opuntian Lokrians.
The excavation brought to light parts of the ancient city and the cemeteries, with the most important discovery being the Sanctuary of Asklepios, which is among the earliest Asklepieia in the Greek mainland. The sanctuary was previously unknown and dates to the fifth century BCE.  It is very well preserved, though quite small. Its modest size, 30 by 15 metres, suggests that the town it served was quite small. The identity of the sanctuary as an Asklepeion was confirmed by the discovery of snake-shaped offerings and shards of pottery bearing the healing god’s name. Asklepios was the son of Apollo, and the god of medicine and healing. His sanctuaries typically include an area for patients to stay for their cure, and are often adjacent to a theatre as the Greeks took a holistic view of medicine, believing in treatment for the mind as well as for the body. When the excavation reports are published it will be interesting to know more about the constituent parts of the Sanctuary.