The Shackled Burials from Phaleron ~ Another Possible Identification?

Way back in March/April there was an announcement of an  important discovery at Phaleron which — due to the usual too-much-going-on reasons — I never had a chance to relate here or comment on. Briefly stated, during excavations of a large cemetery there (which has been an ongoing excavation for quite a few years) a mass burial of some 80 individuals, including 36 who had their hands shackled, was revealed. At the time, the chief archaeologist, Stella Chryssoulaki gave an excellent press briefing on the findings:

Of the varied press coverage at the time, see Kristina Kilgrove’s piece in Forbes is probably the most useful:

Other coverage (largely based on the AFP coverage in the first item).

As can be seen, the coverage from back in  March/April all suggested that the mass burial section of the cemetery — which really has no grave goods of any kind directly associated with it — can be dated to the seventh century BCE and the ‘likely identification’ is that the skeletons belong to folks who had been associated with Cylon in his ill-fated coup attempt back in 632 BCE. From what I can gather, the identification is based largely on the apparently healthy bones of the deceased and the existence of some vaguely mentioned Archaic pottery nearby.

This past weekend, it struck me as strange that the story was once again in the news. From what I have seen so far, there is nothing really new to be added to the story and all I can think of is that this story is back in the news solely because Cylon was an Olympic victor and, of course, the modern version of the Olympics will be starting in Rio shortly.

And so, as usually happens when news articles appear to have been timed to coincide with some modern event, I decided to look closer at this purported association with Cylon. A natural starting point, of course, is Thucydides 126.3 ff (via the Perseus Project) and his account of how the Alcmeonidai came to be ‘cursed’:

[3] In former generations there was an Athenian of the name of Cylon, a victor at the Olympic games, of good birth and powerful position, who had married a daughter of Theagenes, a Megarian, at that time tyrant of Megara.[4] Now this Cylon was inquiring at Delphi; when he was told by the god to seize the Acropolis of Athens on the grand festival of Zeus.[5] Accordingly, procuring a force from Theagenes and persuading his friends to join him, when the Olympic festival in Peloponnese came, he seized the Acropolis, with the intention of making himself tyrant, thinking that this was the grand festival of Zeus, and also an occasion appropriate for a victor at the Olympic games. [6] Whether the grand festival that was meant was in Attica or elsewhere was a question which he never thought of, and which the oracle did not offer to solve. For the Athenians also have a festival which is called the grand festival of Zeus Meilichios or Gracious, viz. the Diasia. It is celebrated outside the city, and the whole people sacrifice not real victims but a number of bloodless offerings peculiar to the country. However, fancying he had chosen the right time, he made the attempt. [7] As soon as the Athenians perceived it, they flocked in, one and all, from the country, and sat down, and laid siege to the citadel.[8] But as time went on, weary of the labour of blockade, most of them departed; the responsibility of keeping guard being left to the nine archons, with plenary powers to arrange everything according to their good judgment. It must be known that at that time most political functions were discharged by the nine archons.[9] Meanwhile Cylon and his besieged companions were distressed for want of food and water.[10] Accordingly Cylon and his brother made their escape; but the rest being hard pressed, and some even dying of famine, seated themselves as suppliants at the altar in the Acropolis.[11] The Athenians who were charged with the duty of keeping guard, when they saw them at the point of death in the temple, raised them up on the understanding that no harm should be done to them, led them out and slew them. Some who as they passed by took refuge at the altars of the awful goddesses were despatched on the spot. From this deed the men who killed them were called accursed and guilty against the goddess, they and their descendants.[12] Accordingly these cursed ones were driven out by the Athenians, driven out again by Cleomenes of Lacedaemon and an Athenian faction; the living were driven out, and the bones of the dead were taken up; thus they were cast out. For all that, they came back afterwards, and their descendants are still in the city.

Herodotus’ account (5.71.1 ff via Perseus) is rather more brief:

How the Accursed at Athens had received their name, I will now relate. There was an Athenian named Cylon, who had been a winner at Olympia. This man put on the air of one who aimed at tyranny, and gathering a company of men of like age, he attempted to seize the citadel. When he could not win it, he took sanctuary by the goddess’ statue.[2] He and his men were then removed from their position by the presidents of the naval boards, the rulers of Athens at that time. Although they were subject to any penalty save death, they were slain, and their death was attributed to the Alcmaeonidae. All this took place before the time of Pisistratus.

What both accounts — all written long after the fact —  agree upon, of course, is that Cylon’s followers were suppliants, surrendered in the belief that they wouldn’t be put to death, and subsequently were killed in some unspecified manner. A significant difference is that Herodotus’ account suggests that the suppliants were ‘removed’ on the understanding that they would be punished and not subject to the death penalty. Thucydides’ account is a bit more vague and does not seem to have the punishment implied, much less the death but does suggest the suppliants were ‘starved out’. The two historians do agree, however, that the erstwhile suppliants were killed and their killing was considered sacrilege.

Plutarch’s account was written several hundred years after the fact and seems to have been embellished somewhat (Solon 12.1  via Perseus):

Now the Cylonian pollution had for a long time agitated the city, ever since Megacles the archon had persuaded Cylon and his fellow conspirators, who had taken sanctuary in the temple of Athena, to come down and stand their trial. They fastened a braided thread to the image of the goddess and kept hold of it, but when they reached the shrine of the Erinyes on their way down, the thread broke of its own accord, upon which Megacles and his fellow-archons rushed to seize them, on the plea that the goddess refused them the rights of suppliants. Those who were outside of sacred precincts were stoned to death, and those who took refuge at the altars were slaughtered there; only those were spared who made supplication to the wives of the archons.

This account really doesn’t provide a situation where shackles were put on any of the suppliants and the ‘braided thread’ story seems a bit fanciful.  Even so, what I haven’t been able to find any information on — and I gladly seek help on this — is whether it would be considered sacrilege to put shackles on a suppliant. As mentioned above, 36 of the 80 skeletons found in the mass grave at Phaleron are shackled, which clearly suggests they were prisoners of some kind. Were Cylon’s associates ‘led out in chains’? I’m also curious whether being ‘starved out’ would somehow affect the skeletal remains.

Given the possibility that the folks in the Cylon affair might not have been shackled before they were sacrilegiously slain, that opens the possibility that the bodies in the cemetery might actually belong to another massacre and it could be argued that these were the prisoners who were sent to Athens in the wake of the revolt of Mytilene in 428 BCE., a date which would be at the tail end of the finds in the Phaleron cemetery. In an interesting bit of synchronicity, this event has been mentioned recently in connection with possible ‘revotes’ of Brexit matters as originally the decision was to execute all the males of Mytilene and a ‘revote’ changed that to execution of folks who had been directly involved and already sent to Athens (see the account in Thucydides 3.36 ff). Whatever the case, the only problem with this suggestion is that according to Thucydides, the number of prisoners executed at the time numbered close to 1000 (3.50.1), which would be a rather large number of folks to put on ships to send to Athens perhaps. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article on the revolt gives — but doesn’t cite — the suggestion that the 1000 number is a “scribal error” and a figure closer to 30 is more likely. I would never base an argument solely on something from Wikipedia, of course, but I have been unable to locate any scholarly revision of the 1000 figure. Does anyone know where Wikipedia is getting this ‘closer to 30’ figure from? Presumably the ringleaders of the Mytilene revolt would have been healthy individuals and probably sent to Athens in shackles. It must be admitted that it does seem to fit the finds from Phaleron rather nicely, no?

Thinking out loud (the next morning):

Wilson, J. (1981). Strategy and Tactics in the Mytilene Campaign. Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte, 30(2), 144-163. Retrieved from  … notes the controversy over numbers, but defends the ‘1000’ suggestion on pp 147-148.

Quinn, T. (1971). Political Groups in Lesbos during the Peloponnesian War. Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte, 20(4), 405-417. Retrieved from … suggests the numbers might be plausible if oligarchs from other places were included, although even that has difficulties p. 408, n.21.

Debnar, P. (2000). DIODOTUS’ PARADOX AND THE MYTILENE DEBATE (THUCYDIDES 3.37-49). Rheinisches Museum Für Philologie, 143(2), 161-178. Retrieved from … p. 161 n.1 (note the Wilson article is cited above):



Bust in Athens

From eNet:

Among the antiquities found in the man’s possession were 616 ancient artefacts dating from the Neolithic period and over 1,200 ancient coins, mainly from the Hellenistic period, and two Roman-era medals

A 53-year-old man has been arrested after police found rare objects dating from the Neolithic period in his possession.

In a planned operation, police moved in to arrest the man at a carpark at the Flisvou marina, in the southern Athens suburb of Paleo Faliro.

Police seized 616 ancient artefacts dating from the Neolithic period and 840 ancient coins, mainly from the Hellenistic period.

In a subsequent search of a man’s house, in the city of Larisa in Thessaly, police found and seized 391 additional coins from various eras and two Roman-era medals.

Police are continuing their investigation.

The man will be brought before an Athens prosecutor.

Here’s a photo of one of the objects recovered:

Hellenic Police via eNet

… not sure why this item looks familiar …

The End of the Lyceum Saga?

Not sure how much I want to believe the latest coverage from Greece. Back in May of 2009, we were told that the site of the Lyceum was to be covered (Covering the Lyceum). A couple of months later, we were told it would be ‘soon’ opening to the public (Lyceum Opening Next Month). Roughly a year later, we heard that the site wasn’t really being kept up … not sure if we posted this, so here’s an excerpt from the Kathimerini coverage at the time:

[…] Archaeologists seeking the location of Plato’s Academy, with excavations sponsored by the Academy of Athens (1929-40) and the Greek Archaeological Society (1955-70s), have made many important discoveries, including sections of a wall and an inscribed boundary stone distinguishing the core area of the Academy district; a square, 4th-century BC peristyle building of unknown function; a large, late-Hellenistic, early-Roman gymnasium equipped with possible tables for students; and hundreds of slate writing tablets. Today, the peristyle building, which dates to Plato’s era, lies hidden beneath a paved, neighborhood square in which stands a marble bust of the philosopher.
The foundations of the subsequent gymnasium, on the other hand, which had no direct connection with Plato, can still be seen – within a pleasant, shady park reminiscent of the ancient precinct’s original wooded environment. Pausanias, the 2nd-century AD Roman traveler, also saw a gymnasium in this area (although perhaps a different one from that exposed today) and “not far from the Academy… the monument of Plato.”

Plato’s property – the actual site of his school – lay apart from the walled Academy precinct, somewhere between the currently visible gymnasium and the low hill to the northeast, Hippios Kolonos. Maps drawn as early as the late 18th century record this understanding of the area’s ancient topography. Today, however, some confusion can arise for visitors, who will find misleading, decades-old signs posted by the Culture Ministry that identify late Hellenistic and early Roman foundations as belonging to “Plato’s Academy.”

In addition, these archaeological remains, some of the most important for Athens’ heritage as the birthplace of Western learning, now lie completely neglected except by the occasional gardener. Eroding walls, rusty fences, haphazard collections of ancient stones, and a lack of explanatory signboards characterize a place that should be a world heritage site.

The late-Hellenistic, early-Roman gymnasium visible today may have been the site of the Platonic Academy in its final form – destroyed by Sulla when he ravaged the district and felled its trees in 86 BC – but it was never the base of Plato’s own Academy nearly three centuries earlier. The exact place where Plato resided and met with his students represents one of the great archaeological puzzles waiting to be solved. In the meantime, the Academy area and the site of Aristotle’s Lyceum deserve more informative, conscientious curatorship that ultimately will benefit both local communities and foreign visitors inspired by ancient Greece.

Now we’re hearing (once again) that the site is opening to the public … here’s the incipit:

A walk down Rigillis Street near central Athens, between Vassilissis Sofias and Vassileos Constantinou avenues, reveals glimpses into the significant progress that has been made in the excavations at the archaeological site behind the Byzantine and Christian Museum, the location of the Lyceum, Aristotle’s school of philosophy. On the banks of the Ilissos River, most of which today runs underground, the Lyceum was a part of a large complex which also housed a gymnasium where the city’s hoplites and riders were trained in the art of war.

The discovery of the Lyceum and the adjacent Palaistra, or wrestling school, was made by archaeologists in 1996 and was hailed as the “discovery of the century” by international media, not just because it is where Aristotle taught some 2,500 years ago, but also because it contained valuable information regarding the topography of ancient Athens.

For the past 15 years, archaeologists have been excavating and studying the site, which is expected to be opened up to the general public this summer to coincide with the 23rd World Congress of Philosophy, scheduled to take place in Athens from August 4-10. The congress is organized by the International Federation of Philosophical Societies in collaboration with the University of Athens.

The entrance to the site is located behind the elegant building of the Officers’ Club on the corner of Vassilissis Sofias and Mourouzi Street, where the visitor information booth will be located. The 1.1-hectare site contains the remains of the Lyceum and the Palaistra, which are also visible from the small Church of Aghios Nikolaos and the Athens Conservatory on the Vassileos Constantinou Avenue side of the site.

The perimeter of the site has been planted with herbs such as lavender, mint, sage, thyme and oregano, with indigenous trees – pomegranates, olives, laurel, cypress and acacias – here and there, giving visitors a picture of what the landscape would have looked like during antiquity.

Eleni Banou, the head of the Third Ephorate of Classical Antiquity, which oversaw the excavation and the design of the site, spoke to Kathimerini about its significance during a tour of the area, accompanied by architect and site supervisor Niki Sakka.

“The three gymnasium’s – Plato’s, Aristotle’s and Cynosarges – were complexes where the city’s youth and men would receive physical and mental training, as well as intellectual stimulation,” explained Banou.

“The Lyceum was set in a very green suburb of Ancient Athens that was named after the Sanctuary of Lycian Apollo. The Lyceum is best known for its connection to Aristotle, who had rented the facilities and in 335 BC founded his school there, known as the Peripatetic School,” Banou added.

The gymnasium, located near the banks of the Ilissos, takes up a quarter of a hectare. It consists of a large internal courtyard of 23 by 26 meters surrounded by a colonnade. Symmetrically arranged around the courtyard were the ephebeion, where young men would train to become citizens, sparring rings, dressing rooms, baths and other facilities. The building was abandoned in the 4th century AD and was used only occasionally up until the early Byzantine years.

Much of the site has been planted with grass to give it a more relaxing feel.

“We want the public to be able to sit on the grass, to lounge around, take a stroll. We want people to feel free to touch things and wander about,” said Banou.

Architect Dimitris Koutsoyiannis, who is responsible for landscaping the site together with Dimitris Koukoulas, explained how the temporary shelters over the antiquities will be removed and glass casings will cover water features representing the river and the two hot baths.

The area will also have walkways, plenty of seating areas and a pavilion.

The budget for the site’s revamp is 1.2 million euros, but Banou stresses that they have been very frugal with its use and there is money left over, which should strengthen her case for allowing the public free admission for the first year after the site opens. […]

Stoa of Attalos Open to Public!!

… after 30 years!! Tip o’ the pileus to Diana Wright for passing on the Kathimerini coverage:

For the first time in 30 years, the first floor of the Stoa of Attalos in the Ancient Agora next to the Acropolis in Athens, has opened to the public

The Stoa of Attalos is among Athens’s finest monuments. It was fully reconstructed and made into the Ancient Agora Museum, by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. But the first floor had remained closed to the public until Wednesday.

Archaeological research has revealed that the ancient shopping mall was built in 150 BC by Attalos II, king of Pergamon, who gifted it to Athens.

Most recently, the Stoa of Attalos hosted the 2003 European Union Summit, where Cyprus’s accession to the EU was signed.

The opening of the first floor of the Stoa is part of an initiative for the revival of the Ancient Agora run jointly by the ASCS, the Culture Ministry and the First Ephorate of Antiquities. The project has a total budget of 964,000 euros and is co-funded by the European Union and the Public Investment Program of the Development Ministry.

The first floor of the Stoa it will house an exhibition of sculptures found during excavations at the Ancient Agora, representing Athenian art from the Late Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. The 56 objects that comprise the permanent exhibition are a rare treat as they have never been shown to the public before.

See also:

How Can We Sleep When Our Ruins Are Crumbling?

That cryptic title is a vague reference to a song by Midnight Oil which is currently stuck in my head … whatever the case, we fairly regularly get an annual article that this or that particular monument is being neglected by authorities (e.g., most recently, e.g., a chunk falling off  the Colosseum), but in the past week or so, if we believe journalists, the whole ancient world’s remains are in danger. First, e.g., we can read of the sad state of affairs in Athens, inter alia:

This week, as angry Greeks marched in mass resistance to economic austerity, the graffiti re-emerged with renewed vigour and vengeance.

On the hill of the Muses, west of the Acropolis, the Philopappos monument is now ringed by a rosary of plaintiffs and expletives. The eyesores descend all the way to the thyme-covered hill of the Nymphs where ”artworks” appear even around the rock on which the assembly of ancient Athens convened.

Taking my evening stroll, I bumped into a Melbourne man who couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.. ”Don’t the Greeks take any pride in their ancient heritage?” he blurted. ”Where I come from they’d call it disgraceful – and you know what, they’d be removed.”

Graffiti isn’t the only problem blighting Greece’s ancient masonry. Demands on the archaeological service are such that many sites now stand unkempt; shrouded by weeds. The Ottoman seminary beneath my home has been so overtaken by eucalyptus trees that roots threaten the foundations of the rare Roman walls bordering the site. Repeated attempts to alert authorities fall on deaf ears – with foreigners who raise such things being brushed off as a rare breed of eccentric.

The problem, like so many other afflictions that have brought the country to the point of near economic and social collapse, is simply ignored. Government functionaries declare that with the debt-stricken nation trying to make ends meet, the state can ill afford such luxuries. Greece’s cultural showpieces have long witnessed its ancient splendours and contemporary sadness – never more so than now in Byron’s ”land of lost gods and godlike men”.

via: Lord Byron’s ancient stones tell modern tales | The Age

Then there’s the state of affairs in Rome (inter alia, again):

Especially when some of the best of it is falling down. Exhibit A: the Domus Aurea, the Golden Villa that Nero built near the Colosseum, where a vaulted gallery fell this spring. Nobody was hurt, fortunately. That’s because the place has been closed since 2008, plagued by structural problems and humidity, which threatens the frescoes. To much fanfare, the city opened part of the site for tourists in 1999. Then heavy rain collapsed a section of roof, the site was closed, reopened a while later, then closed again.

A commission assigned to address the problem spent millions but didn’t forestall the latest mishap. Construction workers were fussing with earthmovers, bits and pieces of ancient columns, broken pots and scaffolding one recent morning. Fedora Filippi, a veteran archaeologist lately put in charge, pointed out where the roof gave way in what is actually an adjacent gallery built under Trajan, after Nero. Rain seeped from a park above, she said. Everybody has known about the leaking for ages. But the park is city-owned, and the Domus Aurea is national property, so the problem is no one’s to solve.

“Everyone is paralyzed,” Ms. Filippi said. “We have problems specific to this site and, yes, we have Italian problems, too.”

After the Domus Aurea gave way, some chunks fell off the Colosseum. Salvo Barrano, vice president of Italy’s Association of National Archaeologists, afterward listed threats to the aqueducts, the Palatine. The country is basically one giant archaeological site, Mr. Barrano said, with every town and region vying for resources, no politician willing to make hard choices, and too few qualified engineers and archaeologists in charge.

“The problem for the last 12 or 13 years is that the country has stopped investing in culture,” he said. “In cases like the Domus Aurea, there just isn’t a quick enough political payoff for politicians to invest more resources.”

via: As Rome Modernizes, Its Past Quietly Crumbles | New York Times

Finally, we read (again inter alia) of the impact of tourism on Pompeii:

Of course the de-construction of Pompeii has been going on ever since it was first uncovered. Pompeii’s marble was stripped for use in new construction, the frescoes were hacked off and carted away to the Archaeological Museum in Naples. The removal of the treasures made sense as a way of preserving them and allowing scholars to study them. Engravings published in 1781 show statuary and other treasures being hauled through the streets of Naples by teams of oxen to the museum which is still home to most of them. Due to cuts imposed by the Ministry of Culture, though, many of the galleries are today closed in rotation.

But what has happened to the site since the end of the Second World War is something quite different. Indifference, lack of resources, lack of good leadership and the numbing Italian state bureaucracy have conspired to accelerate the decline of Pompeii to the point that today it is questionable whether or not it can be salvaged.

The problem is us. We pour through Pompeii and its lesser-known sister site, Herculaneum, in such numbers, millions of us every year, that our impact is comparable to the impact we have on our own homes and streets and towns. The daily population of these sites, the activity on their streets, is not significantly less than it must have been 2,000 years ago.

The difference is that in our own homes we leap into action if the roof starts leaking. Our streets are cleaned, our sewers and roads maintained on a regular basis. But since 1945 Pompeii has been treated as if it has no need of attentions of this sort, simply because nobody actually lives there. Galloping decay is the inevitable result.

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, the British archaeologist who has been leading a project to rescue Herculaneum for the past decade, says, “There is an assumption that by digging stuff up you have redeemed it, you’ve saved it. Except you haven’t. The laws of physics say it’s stable underground. Whatever trauma happened to it at the moment of the eruption, it reaches a stable state. And of course that’s why it comes out in such great condition.

“But the moment you excavate, you start the clock again – the clock that says, you built the house for yourself today, the maintenance bills start tomorrow. It comes back to life, which means it’s mortal again, so it starts dying.”

Pompeii’s years of glory culminated in the long career of Amedeo Maiuri, superintendent throughout the Fascist years. He turned both sites into great popular attractions, restoring many houses and shops to the sort of decorative state they were in at the point when they were inundated, and exhibiting the items found within them in showcases. He was helped by the fact that Mussolini saw in the sites a great source of patriotic propaganda, advertising the age and splendour of Italian civilisation.

But Maiuri’s retirement was followed by decades of apathy and incompetence, with the results that we see today: millions of tourists tramping through the few remaining gems that are still open to visitors, the House of Pansa, the House of the Little Fountain, the House of the Faun, with their flaking frescoes and reproduction statues, then getting back on their buses.

The concentration of such numbers on a handful of sites ensures that they, too, in their turn will soon have to be closed. And what will we all do then? Read our guidebooks in the sterile comfort of the Autogrill, toss our unfinished panini at the stray dogs, and hope that we are in time to make it to the museum in Naples before it closes.

via: Ashes to ashes: neglect takes its toll on Pompeii’s Roman ruins | Independent

Not a pretty picture and likely not about to change in the near future …