Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Cities in the Greek World

Whereas when we started the first Project the chief aim was pure research, to find out more about the past in a region, now we see that the countries of Europe are faced with the great problem that there are far too many archaeological sites for them to deal with by excavation, but yet some kind of systematic study of them is needed to make decisions about the preservation and management of those considered to be of particular importance.

John Bintliff

Dutch Institute in Athens (NIA)

The County Archaeologist (Ephor)

The Aim

The general trend has been to limit the excavation of archaeological sites to the minimum, where the destruction of all or part of a site is unavoidable in the context of modern road and house-building, etc. But as for the vast majority of sites in the landscape which ought to be evaluated for protection programmes, and presented to the public, other means must be found to tell their story, or estimate their boundaries.

Boeotia and Tanagra

Boeotia is still essentially a farming region, and most of its 15 ancient cities lie in cultivated landscapes, at risk from building or road construction and from modern intensive agriculture. Our first target in the Ancient Cities of Boeotia Project has been in a district not studied by the previous Project, Eastern Boeotia, and in particular the city of Tanagra.

Tanagra was a town of medium importance in Classical Greek and Roman times, but its origins have been shrouded in mystery, and the same goes for its fate in the 1500 years between Late Antiquity and the modern village some 5 kilometres from it which bears its name at the presentday. In order to make this large site interpretable for the local public and in future for tourists, we need to be able to tell its story much better.
On the one hand then it is ideal for our aims, as it will not be dug in the conceivable future, and too little is still known about the monument to enable a good presentation to be made for educational and touristic purposes. On the other hand, it has not been cultivated for two generations, and is covered even in high summer by low scrub, so that our normal methods of collecting surface ceramics and mapping architecture on the surface are unusually tough to apply in this case.

Research Group

Since 2000 our joint university team, under the administrative umbrella of the Dutch Institute in Athens (NIA), with the enthusiastic support of its director Gert Jan van Wijgaarden and his team, and with the exceptional constant help and support of the County Archaeologist (Ephor) for Boeotia, Prof. Vassilis Aravantinos, has conducted four seasons of fieldwork at the city and in its surrounding countryside. Our large field team of Dutch, Greek and Slovenian staff and students are accommodated at the Evangelistria Ecclesiastical Research Centre due to the enthusiastic support for our work by Bishop Hieronymus of Livadhia and his personal assistant Mr. George Kopanyas. As of 2004 we are in the study and checking or problem-solving stage for the Tanagra phase of the wider Project.

The staff members responsible: the counting and collection of the grid finds was controlled by myself and Dr. Kostas Sbonias (Corfu University). The creation of detailed surface maps and their placing of all the finds into the computer records is the responsibility of Emeri Farinetti (PhD student, Leiden). The prehistoric pottery is studied by Dr. Kalliope Sarri (Athens), the Classical Greek by Dr. Vladimir Stissi (University of Amsterdam), the Roman ceramics by Prof. Jeroen Poblome (Leuven University) and finally the Medieval and Postmedieval by Thanassi Vionis (PhD student, Leiden).


In the case of Tanagra, almost the entire 30 hectare walled town has been studied through geophysics, and we can now test the hypothetical street and house block plan of Roller against the subsurface realities. As well as reconstruction on the spot of old street lines and houses, and the observed more radical changes of functions to streets and house blocks, there are also observable on the geophysical City plan some totally new architectural features which were the product of the Roman occupants.

As this work progresses, that is the final stages of the total geophysical plotting for the City, the analysis of the plans produced, and the localised ‘ground-truthing’of these subsurface plans through surface cleaning and mapping, we hope to be able to tell much more about the scale and nature of the transformation of the Greek City under Roman rule.

Around the city of Tanagra the rural area is studied by fieldwalking. Two kinds of information comes from such rural fieldwalking. Firstly we find isolated concentrations of pottery and sometimes also building material, which depending on the extent and quality of the finds can be interpreted as farms, villas or villages, or perhaps rural cemeteries. In between these foci of activity, especially in Boeotia, we find entire carpets of broken potsherds, at lower densities than material emanating from past settlements, but still significant enough to mark a major form of human activity.

If therefore the demise of the City of Tanagra becomes understandable, can we test our working hypothesis that life went on somewhere not far away? In the 2003 season we studied a large village site at Agios Konstantinos a mere 2 kilometres south of the City. A very extensive Late Roman village was the main occupation period, but intriguingly the village was seemingly fortified on all sides, and our medieval ceramics’ specialist Thanassi Vionis speculates that a few of the finds might just allow the refuge site to continue into the troubled, low population Dark Age era which succeeds Late Roman (ca. 600-900 AD). This is certainly the kind of scenario we might expect, and look forward to more work on the finds from this site, to see if this admittedly speculative and preliminary idea holds up!

For more information on this research please look at this PDF document.

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