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V, 1  

Special number

(Bibliotheca Septemcastrensis, XVII)

ISSN 1583-1817


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The Society of the Living – the Community of the Dead

(from Neolithic to the Christian Era)

 Proceedings of the

7 th International Colloquium of Funerary Archaeology

Editorial board:

Editor: Sabin Adrian LUCA (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Members: Paul NIEDERMAIER (membru corespondent al Academiei Române), (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Dumitru PROTASE (membru de onoare al Academiei Române) (Universitatea „Babeş-Bolyai” Cluj-Napoca); Paolo BIAGI (Ca’Foscary University Venice, Italy); Martin WHITE (Sussex University, Brighton, United Kingdom); Michela SPATARO (University College London, United Kingdom); Zeno-Karl PINTER (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Marin CÂRCIUMARU (Universitatea „Valahia” Târgovişte, România); Nicolae URSULESCU (Universitatea „Al. I. Cuza” Iaşi, România); Gheorghe LAZAROVICI (Universitatea „Eftimie Murgu” Reşiţa, România); Thomas NÄGLER (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Secretaries:Ioan Marian ŢIPLIC (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Silviu Istrate PURECE (Universitatea „Lucian Blaga” din Sibiu, România); Special number Editors: Sabin Adrian LUCA, Valeriu SÎRBU; Web editor: Cosmin Suciu

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Antikytera: the Early Hellenistic cemetery of a Pirate’s Town

Tina Martiş,

Muzeul Banatului, Timişoara, România,

Michalis Zoitopoulos,

National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece,


Aris Tsaravopoulos,

Ministry of Culture, 26th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities , Greece,


Antikythera is a small, promote, infertile island (SE of the Peloponnese and Kythera, NW of Crete) [pl. 1] and in its rocky terrain today live no more than 30 people during the winter. The strong winds (especially the north ones) combined with the steep shores and the absence of natural harbour make difficult the access to the island. Antikythera is the ancient Aigila or Aigileia with a sanctuary of Apollo (under the hill of the acropolis at the beach of Xeropotamos, in the N part of the island) [pl. 2] where in 1880 was discovered a headless statue of Apollo inscribed in its base (Stais 1889, p.237-242. Petrocheilos 1987, p.31-42). The island is known due to the shipwreck of 1 st century B.C., just off its eastern shores, where was found in the beginning of the 20 th century, the Antikythera mechanism and the bronze statue, the ephebos (adolescent) of Antikythera, all of which are exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. The level of the sea is subsided at about 3 meters from the Hellenistic era (this is visible in the rocky shores; where the rock is dark colored indicates the ancient sea level), so we can imagine the modern beach of Xeropotamos being under the water. There, also, was the ancient harbour, probably, hidden (Tsaravopoulos 1997, p.105-108) (as in the case of Phalasarna) behind the foot of the hill offering shelter from the strong winds and protection from enemy ships. There is also an ancient shipshed, cut in the rock, in the northern part of the acropolis.

At the site of Kastro, on the hill, above the beach of Xeropotamos, [pl. 3] stand the remains of an impressive acropolis (fortified by two rows of enceinte walls of the 5 th and 4 th century B.C., inner and outer, in the isodomic style which encircle the plateau of the acropolis) . The walls are, in many cases, well preserved, reaching a height of 4 to 6 meters. So far, trials there have revealed traces of a pirate’s community. The 3 rd century B.C. is the time that the settlement in the acropolis (it is more like a fortified pirate’s camp actually) reached its peak. It seems that the acropolis settlement was under the command of Phalasarna (a pirate harbor town of western Crete) at least in the 3 rd century B.C. according to the finds. Bronze coins of Phalasarna are of the most common finds as well as amygdaloid sling bullets. Extremely interesting is a sling bullet inscribed – ΠΑΡΑ ΦΑ ( ΛΑΣ ) ΑΡΝΙΩΝ - , which means: this sling bullet is thrown by the people of Phalasarna. It is reasonable, then, to believe that the inhabitants were active at the time of Cretan piracy in the Aegean. Western Crete and especially Phalasarna appeared on good terms with Sparta in the first quarter of the 3 rd century B.C. (Karafotias 1998, p.106), but at the same time Rhodes was threatened by the coalition of Sparta with the Cretan states (Karafotias 1998, p.109). That’s why, during the 3 rd century B.C., when Ρόδιοι προεστάναι ’ εδόκουν των κατά θάλατταν (Rhodians were considered the leading power in the Aegean Sea) (Polybious IV. 47.1), attacked Antikythera according to a votive inscription in Rhodes Museum that mentions an expedition against Aigila (Clara Rhodos II, 1932, p.169-170). It may be a connection of that event with a destruction layer of the western outer wall of the acropolis in the first half of the 3 rd century B.C. The final destruction of the settlement took place at 67 B.C., by the Romans (Caecilius Metellus destroyed Cretan pirate states including Phalasarna), who managed to suppress piracy in the Mediterranean world in the 1 st century B.C., to be inhabited again in the 4 th - 5 th century A.D.

The cemetery lies on a gentle slope at about 300m SE of the Acropolis (extra muros) in a rocky terrain in wild vegetation and poor soil. The cemetery of Antikythera is not organized in the sense that other early Hellenistic cemeteries are, since no clustering of graves is observed. No traces of an ancient road or passage have been identified so far, although there was probably some kind of passage from the East slope of the acropolis leading down to the graves. No traces of enclosure have been identified as well. There is a modern wall south of the graves in which lots of ancient cover slabs were reused. The graves lack a common orientation. Their orientation is dictated by the morphology of the ground (as in the case of many other Hellenistic cemeteries as Samos, Veroia, Thera and Phalasarna) (Tsakos 1977, p.416). No conclusions can be drawn by the stratigraphy of the graves due to the disturbance and the only chronological clue comes from the finds.

The modern name of the area is mnemata (the greek word for graves) so it is not surprising that all of the tombs are plundered (totally or partly). It is also possible that ancient intruders looted the tombs. Human bones are scarce and badly preserved due to the soil conditions and particularly to the opening of the graves. Although no skeletons have been found the absence of traces of intense burning in the graves makes clear that the majority of the burials were inhumations.

So far, 21 graves have been identified that can be classified by their architecture into three types: rock cut graves that take advantage of natural cavities (11), shafts cut in the rock (7) with a ledge for the cover slabs and tefrodochoi (2) small rectangular hollow cuts in the rock with a small, round hole in the middle to receive the ashes of the dead. The architectural type of the shaft is common for the early Hellenistic period (Giannikouri et.al. 2000, p.63) , but those of Antikythera are quite elaborated, often having a ledge on their four or three sides. In Phalasarna the majority of the hellenistic graves are built cists but among them there are 2 shafts cut in the rock (Niniou-Kindeli 1981, p.401, Hadjidaki 1987, p.566-567, Hadjidaki 1990, p.355-361). Shafts cut in the rock with ledge for cover slabs or tiles have been also found in the cemetery of Echinos in Fthiotis, central Greece, which covers a period from the end of the 5 th century B.C. to mid 3 rd century B.C. (Bougia 2005, p.149). The dimensions of the Antikythera shafts [pl. 4] are usually ca 2m.-2.30m. long, 0.80m.-1.10m. wide and their depth varies from 1 to 1.50m. In two cases (tombs nos. 1, 2 and 13, 14) shafts are next to each other, forming pairs, but it is not clear if the reason for that is a special relationship of the dead or just the fact that there was a cavity under that part of the natural rock (so it would be easier to cut graves there). The rock cut graves of Antikythera [pl. 5] often take advantage of natural cavities and they were cut in a way so the people , who made them , were saving effort. Usually rounded openings in the rock lead to a ‘’chamber’’ no deeper than 2m and no longer and wider than 1.50m. In some of these openings there, as in the shaft graves, there are ledges in order to support cover slabs. The natural rock is sandstone but is not always easy to cut. There is a good parallel from the classical period at the Lavrion mines. Considering that a worker in the mines could cut about 8 cubic meters of marble (that is harder than limestone) per day, if he worked the whole day (Konophagos 1980, p.195), we can figure out that the opening of 3-4 cubic meters for a ‘’chamber’’ like those in Antikythera would demand 1 or 2 days of work. The technique used for the cutting of the rock is evident in a case where we have an attempt of cutting a tomb that was never finished. In order to cut the rock they opened 2 channels. Then they hit the sides of each channel with a hammer and a chisel so that it gets bigger (Konophagos 1980, p.194).

The finds come from three graves that had already been opened but not completely looted. Tomb no.13 contained, in its lowest stratum, just above the bedrock, six unguentaria (3 intact and parts of 3 other) and a lamp, all have been probably found in situ, where the skeleton is presumed to have been. The first unguentarium T.13.1 [pl. 6], the smallest of all, is black-glazed and its height does not exceed 7 cm. Its appearance makes possible that is of an Athenian origin (Anderson-Stojanovic 1987, p.114. Sparkes, Talcott 1970, p.340, pl.63 for two parallels: nos. 1491, 1492, black-glazed, height ca. 7 cm. dated to 325-300 B.C.). The second one [pl. 7] is an undecorated pseudamphora, almost 14 cm high. The shape of the vessel belongs to the general type (conical, low stem, globural body) of the end of the 4 th century and the beginning of the 3 rd century B.C. (Triantaphyllopoulou 2005, p.62, pl. 13 δ ). The coarse, yellowish with dark inclusions, fabric of the vessel has no parallels among the other known examples of the type (Giannikouri et.al. 2000, p.65-66). It is considered that these vessels are miniature imitations of Cypriot amphorae (Bougia 2005, p.151) . Unguentarium T.13.3 [pl. 8] is a greyish one with red bands applied on the belly, shoulder and neck of the vessel. Parallels are found in the North Cemetery of Corinth, dated to the early third century B.C. (Blegen et.al. 1964, p.291, pl76 nos. 491-10, 491-11. Young 1951, p.129, pl.54a no. 13.5). Rotroff (Rotroff 1984, p.258), Sparkes and Talcott (Sparkes, Talcott 1970, p.191-192) pointed out the dependence of gray unguentaria on Cypriot prototypes. Imitations of Cypriot bichrome V amphorae in a rather coarse fabric appear in Greece by the late 4 th and early 3 rd centuries B.C. where being made in the finer, gray unguentarium fabric. A black-glazed lamp [pl. 9] discovered together with the unguentaria, inscribed on its nozzle with – ΔΩ -. It is possible that the incised letters on the nozzle correspond with the first two letters of the owner’s name albeit they usually are interpreted as the letters from the lamp-maker’s name (Howland 1958, p.4; note that there is no proven instance of a lamp-maker’s name appearing on a lamp before the second half of the 2 nd century B.C.). The lamp belongs to the type 25A of the Athenian Agora (ring-shaped base slightly concave on the outside), covering a chronological period from the middle of the second quarter of the 4 th century to the first quarter of the 3 rd century B.C. (Howland 1958, p.67-69, pl.38; see for example no.272 which is dated to 340-310 B.C.). The rock-cut tomb no.20 contained a kantharos [pl. 10]. The tomb was plundered with the intruders leaving only that vessel in a depth of 1.05m at the south corner. The kantharos is dated to ca. 275 and comes from a Korone’s workshop (Rotroff 1997, p.244, pl.2; kantharoi of that height, 13-15 cm., began to be made more commonly around 275 B.C., ibid. p.84). Finally, there is a lead sling-bullet coming from tomb no.10. The tomb was plundered but it seems that the plunderers did not recognise or did not see the sling-bullet while they were digging, so as a result it was found high in the filling of the grave. The sling bullet, if it is a burial gift (probably is one), is a very important find not only indicating that there was buried a light armed soldier together with his arms. More important is that we are, now, able to prove the provenance of two other sling bullets (the one inscribed – ΒΑ C ΙΛΕΩ C- and the other – ΑΙΝΙΣ - or – ΑΦΝΙΣ -) in Oxford Museum, said to be found in graves at Antikythera (Foss 1975, p.40-44. Tsaravopoulos, forthcoming).

It is not easy to make a chronological distinction out of the grave types. Due to the small number of grave gifts recovered so far, we are not yet able to distinguish different periods of use in the cemetery nor are we if the graves were used for multiple burials. If that is not the case, it proves extremely difficult to see how a cemetery of 20-30 graves served a community of 500 or more people for two hundred years. We do know that the periods of use of the cemetery covered at least the late 4 th to mid-3 rd centuries B.C. It may be that the cemetery correlates with the earliest period of habitation on the acropolis. Communities below the threshold of 350-500 members are not, normally, associated with systems or organization involving ascribed status and social stratification (Morris 1987, 145). In our case, things might be different, since we are talking about a pirate city. Usually, it is accepted that the social character and structure of a community, as well as, its size and social stratification is reflected to the character and structure of its burial ground. Therefore, one could suggest that by the late 4 th to mid-3 rd centuries B.C. the social character of the people on the island was different than in later periods. Perhaps, the island was not at that time occupied by Cretan pirates. It may be that less attention was given to the dead in a piratical community where death was no stranger. If that is the case, we can explain the lack of graves dated from the second half of the 3 rd down to the 1 st century B.C. Another explanation could be that the people occupying the acropolis of Antikythera were buried back in Phalasarna.

At the moment, only speculations can be done because of the disturbance of the graves and the extraction of the grave goods. Until the present point,the customs identified conform more or less to those known elsewhere but with significant local variations due to the terrain and, possibly, the character of the community. Further investigation into tombs should allow the local customs to be defined more clearly.

Bibliography :


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Hadjidaki 1990 : HADJIDAKI ( E .).- Excavations at the Harbor of Phalasarna. In: Acts of the 6 th International Cretological Congress, vol. A1, Chania, 1990, p. 355-361.

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Tsakos 1977 : TSAKOS (K.).- Ελληνιστικοί λαξευτοί τάφοι στη Σάμο. ArchDelt, 32, 1977, p. 344-420.

Tsaravopoulos 1997 : TSARAVOPOULOS (A.).- Αντικύθηρα, ArchDelt 52 B2 Chron, 1997, p. 105-108.

Tsaravopoulos , forthcoming : TSARAVOPOULOS ( A .).- Ενεπίγραφες Μολυβδίδες από τις ανασκαφές στων τελευταίων ετών στα Αντικύθηρα, forthcoming ιn: HOROS 17.

You ng 1951: YOUNG (R.).- Sepulturae Intra Urbem. HESPERIA, XX, 1951, p. 67-134.

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Plate 3.

Plate 4.

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Plate 9.


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