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Home ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES

ΑΡΧΑΙΟΛΟΓΙΚΟΙ ΧΩΡΟΙ

CEMETERIES AND THE ROYAL NECROPOLIS

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   Apart from the settlement of ancient Aiani itself, at numerous sites in the surrounding area remains have also been found of farmsteads, clusters of graves and indeed extensive cemeteries from the Bronze and Iron Ages and the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman eras.  

 

   About 1 km. to the east of the city on the Megali Rachi hill, at Tskaria, the large East Cemetery was discovered. Part of this cemetery had been investigated in 1985-1986 and 80 graves had been found, dating from the 4th to the 2nd/1st century BC. Research was resumed in 2005 and completed in 2008 as a rescue excavation after the discovery that graves were being broken up by ploughing, and a total of 257 graves were found. When the study of the finds from this cemetery has been completed, it will be possible to provide a detailed description of the special character of Aiani’s local pottery workshops between the 4th and the 2nd/1st centuries BC, and also to confirm their pioneering tradition and long history (from the Bronze Age through to the Roman period) in the areas of ceramics, coroplastics, sculpture and metalworking. In the area most recently excavated, the cemetery was found to contain ten rows of graves, most of which were dug out of the soft limestone and have a NE-SW orientation. Of these graves, very few have remained unlooted since antiquity, unlike the 80 graves discovered in the original excavation, most of which were intact. Most of the pits contained inhumations, while a small number contained cremations. The bodies had been laid on wooden biers or litters, with the head placed at either of the two narrow ends of the pit. In almost all cases grave goods had been laid by the feet, mainly in the form of clay vases (Figs. 23, 26), together with a limited number of metal objects, while gold items were rare and coins also scarce (Figs. 27, 28). Given the great size of the cemetery, it must have served a large number of the city’s inhabitants. The graves were used for contemporary burials and also by the same families for several generations in succession. The objects that accompanied the dead to the next world reflect the customs and practices of each age over the course of many centuries. Of particular note are the iron and bronze strigils, which include one from the middle of the 4th century BC with the name ΑΔΑΜΑΣ stamped on the handle (the name of its owner or manufacturer), and groups of clay vases from local workshops (Figs. 29, 30).

   In another cluster of graves, just 200 m. to the west of the ancient city, a number of Iron Age cist-graves with stone slabs have been excavated, amongst whose grave goods two vases with matt-painted decoration stand out (Fig. 31). A number of pit-graves from the 4th century BC have also been discovered in the same area, although they have suffered greater damage as a result of ploughing activities. The grave goods found here included a bronze kylix. 

   The cemeteries of the ancient city were not confined to one particular, organised site. As has already been mentioned, clusters of graves from different historical periods exist in numerous locations around the settlement. Where the soil was shallow these graves were broken up by ploughing, particularly after the Second World War and the ensuing Civil War, when the land began to be redistributed and the local inhabitants turned from stockbreeding to arable farming by converting the old pasture lands into fields for the cultivation of crops. The geomorphology of the area, with its series of low hills, also contributed to the destruction of the graves. Thus, on the barren slopes a number of severely damaged burials have been found, and in fact in one case the grave goods had emerged onto the surface, although fortunately they had remained in place.

   About 1 km. to the north-east of the ancient city, at Leivadia, a more extensive cemetery has been discovered, with pit-graves from the Iron Age and the Archaic and Classical eras, as well as a built cist-grave. Most of the burials had been disturbed in antiquity and only a few yielded any grave goods; of these, a notable find is a black-figure jug depicting a maenad flanked by satyrs, the product of a local workshop dating from the early 5th century BC (Fig. 32).

   In the same area, on the side of the hill and closer to the ancient city, the Necropolis proper has been uncovered, with built monumental tombs and pit-graves from the Archaic and Classical eras and a large number of pit-graves from the Hellenistic period. Immediately next to these a small prehistoric installation from the Late Neolithic Era and Early Bronze Age has been found, as well as a cemetery of Mycenaean character. A total of twelve built chamber tombs and smaller cist-graves have been excavated. Four of these were surrounded by walls (periboloi), rectangular structures made of stone blocks. Three more enclosures encircled pit-graves. A number of other structures with burial and worship functions, as well as the funerary monuments, will be discussed later in the descriptions of the individual finds. 

 

Dr Georgia Karamitrou – Mentesidi

 

PIT-GRAVES

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    The pit-graves in the Necropolis at Aiani were simple openings in the ground, in which were laid the litters bearing the bodies of the deceased. They are almost all situated to the west of Enclosures Z and H, outside the area containing the built tombs: the grave goods found scattered in the area between Tombs ΣΤ, Θ, I and Z can be attributed to the existence and destruction of a small number of pit-graves in this area or the scattering of booty when the built tombs were looted. This view rests on my own personal belief, drawn from my experience as an excavator, that in the Archaic and Classical eras contemporary burials were probably not disturbed. Some of these graves, which belonged to ordinary citizens, escaped being looted. In many cases, the ancient tomb-robbers appear to have been selective in their ‘work’, looking for gold offerings on the top sections of the bodies and ignoring everything else. The fact that the dead were placed on wooden biers or litters is proven by the discovery of iron nails, some with remains of wood still on them, as well as the curved nails on the handles of clay pots such as lekythoi and kylikes.   

   The mouths of the deceased were often covered with lozenge-shaped sheets of gold or silver, the so-called epistomia. These sheets are decorated with repoussé floral designs. One of them depicts a group of lions and eagles (Fig. 57), while another depicts a winged female figure, lions and rams. Around the bodies were laid the grave goods, which came in a great variety of forms. A considerable number of Corinthian vases were found in the oldest graves (Fig. 58). The black- and red-figure vases that were found are mainly small in size (lekythoi, kylikes, aryballoi, alabastra, kotylae, skyphoi, exaleiptra and kantharoi), although there are also larger pots (oinochoae, pelikae, hydriae, kraters and amphoras) (Fig. 59). Pots manufactured by local workshops have been found that date from the last quarter of the 6th century and the first half of the 5th century BC, and a wealth of pots with added colours has also been unearthed (Figs. 60, 61). The metal finds include bronze bowls, oinochoae (Fig. 62), lebetes, lekanides, strigils, iron tripods and models of two-wheeled and four-wheeled carts. The figurine finds include a few rare bone specimens and a large number of terracotta figurines in a variety of types (some with amazingly well preserved colours) from moulds used in East Ionian, Attic and Boeotian workshops, such as figurines of kouroi, pot-bellied dwarfs, standing female figures and others seated with a veil or polos (headdress) on their heads, a variety of protomes and figurines of horses that are connected with the models of carts (Figs. 63, 64, 65). A number of sculpted vases or perfume jars in the form of a kore or birds have also been discovered, and another interesting group of finds consists of glass vessels (Figs. 66, 67).    

   The female burials contained precious jewellery in the form of gold earrings, pendants, gold, silver and bronze pins and fibulae, and gold necklaces (Figs. 68, 69, 70, 71). The weapons found in the male burials include bronze helmets, iron spearheads and swords, and bronze shield plates. The wealth of grave goods found in the Archaic and Classical graves in the Aiani Necropolis display an exceptional quality and diversity of form – evidence of a vigorous economy and high standard of living and proof that, in cultural and religious terms, the area shared the same characteristics as the rest of the Greek world.     

 

Dr Georgia Karamitrou – Mentesidi

 

TOMB I

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Tomb I is the oldest built tomb in the Necropolis, with finds dating from the first half of the 6th century BC. Internally, it measures 3.60 m. long x 1.20 m. wide x 1.35 m. high. On the south-west side of the tomb one of the stone slabs from the roof survives intact. An impressive feature is the stepped arrangement of the stone courses around the burial chamber.  

   The internal surfaces of the tomb were carefully coated with plaster and an impressive purple band 9.0 cm. wide runs around the burial chamber at a height of 0.82 m. above the floor. Above this another band is visible, which is bounded by two rows of nails and a painted line. These nails are believed to have secured a wooden board to the walls, on which were fastened (also with iron tacks) bone plaques decorated with scenes of women, shield-bearing warriors, chariots, animals, water birds etc. In addition to these plaques, which are masterpieces of miniature art, a number of other objects were gathered from the interior of the tomb, including the fragments of a black-figure oinochoe with a depiction of Dionysus and a group of maenads in procession, a number of figurines with heads cast from moulds and hand-made bodies that preserve traces of paint on the clothes, and a fragmentary gilded silver sheet depicting the Cyclops Polyphemus sitting down opposite two sheep with men tied underneath them. 

   Outside the tomb a large section of a column drum was found, together with an Ionic capital, the top surface of which displays evidence of having supported a statue, probably that of a sphinx.             

 Dr Georgia Karamitrou – Mentesidi

 

 

 

TOMB Θ

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Tomb Θ was discovered on the same line as Tomb ΣΤ and its burial chamber is similar in size to that of the latter, measuring approx. 3.12 m. long x 1.67 m. wide x 1.35 m. high . The tomb is not in a good state of preservation owing to its method of construction. In this case, instead of large parallelepipedal stone blocks, use was made of smaller, flatter stones. Its internal surfaces bear no traces of plaster, as do the other tombs, although they had been carefully smoothened. 

   The tomb was set within a large enclosure, of whose perimeter wall only the south corner survives, measuring 4.21 x 3.72 m. In spite of the destruction and the looting, the tomb yielded a number of interesting finds, such as the marble head of a lion (evidently from a statue erected as a funerary monument), red-figure pottery, an intact alabastron with a depiction of a negro, some pots with added colours (an intact prochous and aryballos), terracotta figurines, iron spearheads and a sword, gold rosettes and a metal sheet depicting a gorgoneion . These finds date the monument to the first half of the 5th century BC.  

 

Dr Georgia Karamitrou – Mentesidi

 

 

TOMB ΣΤ

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Tomb ΣΤ was set within an enclosure, the stone rim of which lies at a higher level (approx. 1 m. higher than the tomb itself). The surviving stone courses measure 4.10 m. long on the south-east side and 1.37 m. long on the north-west side. The tomb measures 2.85 m. long x 1.75 m. wide x 1.72 m. high, is similar in construction to the other tombs mentioned above and, though now roofless, is in quite a good state of preservation. Its internal surfaces have been plastered with considerable care, although there are no traces of a decorative band, as there are in the other tombs.   
 
   The stone slab that has fallen inside the burial chamber belonged to the roof. Near the outer north corner of the tomb the funerary stele with its palmette finial was found lying flat in the earth. It bears no trace of its painted decoration and a large section of its base is missing. The few remains of the tomb’s grave goods that survived include fragments of terracotta figurines and sherds of black-figure pottery that c.
 
Dr Georgia Karamitrou – Mentesidi 
 
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PHOTOGRAPHIC SAMPLES OF FINDS

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