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Meditations on the Diversity of

the Built Environment in the


Aegean Basin and Beyond
Proceedings of a Colloquium in Memory
of Frederick E. Winter

Athens, 22-23 June 2012

2014
Publications of the Canadian Institute in Greece
Publications de lInstitut canadien en Grce
No. 8

The Canadian Institute in Greece /


LInstitut canadien en Grce
2014

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication


Meditations on the Diversity of the Built Environment in the
Aegean Basin and Beyond : a Colloquium in Memory of Frederick
E. Winter (2012 : Athens, Greece)
Meditations on the diversity of the built environment in the
Aegean Basin and beyond : proceedings of a colloquium in memory
of Frederick E. Winter, Athens, 22-23 June 2012.
(Publications of the Canadian Institute in Greece = Publications
de l'Institut canadien en Grce ; no. 8)
Includes bibliographical references.
Includes essay in French.
ISBN 978-0-9737979-2-3 (pbk.)
1. Architecture, Greek--Mediterranean Region--Congresses.
2. Architecture, Ancient--Mediterranean Region--Congresses.
3. Fortification, Greek--Mediterranean Region--Congresses. 4. City
planning--Mediterranean Region--History--Congresses.
5. Archaeology--Mediterranean Region--Congresses. 6. Mediterranean
Region--Antiquities--Congresses. I. Canadian Institute in Greece
issuing, body II. Title. III. Series: Publications of the Canadian
Institute in Greece no. ; 8
NA279.M44M43 2012

722'.80937

C2014-904738-X

The Canadian Institute in Greece


Dionysiou Aiginitou 7
GR-115 28 Athens, Greece
www.cig-icg.gr

General Editors
David W. Rupp
Jonathan E. Tomlinson

Editorial/Scientific Committee
Richard C. Anderson
Rodney D. Fitzsimons
Rune Frederiksen
David W. Rupp
Joseph W. Shaw
Maria C. Shaw
Barbara Tsakirgis

Copy Editor
Metaxia Tsipopoulou

BRENDAN BURKE, BRYAN BURNS & ALEXANDRA CHARAMI

The Polygonal Wall at Ancient Eleon with Reference


to the Mycenaean Past
The landscape of Boeotia is dramatically marked by remains
of the ancient past, including stone towers, fortified peaks, and
stretches of city walls. Defensive constructions have been well
considered for their strategic position and political geography, but
the symbolic presence of their built structures has not been fully
explored. As Anthony Snodgrass noted in 1986: The main phase of
later Archaic fortification is, in my view, a different and in large
part an independent story. Instead of representing a series of
tactical expedients governed by local considerations, Greek
fortification now becomes essentially a physical manifestation of
the workings of Archaic Greek politics. As such, not surprisingly, it
shows a degree of assimilation in each area where this political
system prevailed, even though the starting-point for development
was not the same in different areas. 1 At ancient Eleon in eastern
Boeotia, the large, polygonal wall is a highly elaborate
construction that defines the eastern boundary of the relatively
small site, about which very little is known from contemporary
historical sources (Fig. 1).
Before discussing our understanding of the wall at Eleon, it is
necessary to contextualize the remains at the site within the
cultural and physical landscape of eastern Boeotia. The Eastern
Boeotia Archaeological Project began in 2007 as a collaborative
venture of the Canadian Institute in Greece and the 9th Ephorate
of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, based in Thebes. The first
phase of work was a diachronic surface survey, using intensive
field-walking strategies to document the history of the

Snodgrass 1986: 130.

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MEDITATIONS ON THE DIVERSITY OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT


agricultural plain east of Thebes.2 Our survey work explored the
landscape east of Thebes, bounded by the Ipatos Mountains to the
north and the Soros range along the south. This broad plain
functioned as a conduit between Thebes, the major economic
center of the region, and the Euboean Gulf. Previous work in the
region includes extensive surveys of sites by Fossey and Hope
Simpson and Dickinson, regional studies by Bintliff and colleagues,
as well as excavations of a Classical cemetery north of Arma and
the Mycenaean chamber tombs east of modern Tanagra, famous
for their painted larnakes. 3 Eleon occupies the center of this plain,
and its visible features have attracted the attention of many
scholars over the years. We were certainly not the first team to
note the impressive nature of the wall and the rich diversity of the
surface finds.4 Our investigation, however, is the first systematic
study of the site, and our analysis documents activity during three
distinct chronological phases. Most recent is the late Medieval
phase, 14th-17th centuries A.D.; then, material from the ArchaicClassical eras, 7th-4th centuries B.C.; and finally from the later
Mycenaean period, 13th-11th centuries B.C. Occupation of the site
during the LH IIIB period is of particular importance to its
identification as Eleon. The toponym e-re-o-ni (Eleona) is found on
two Linear B tablets from Thebes, Ft 140 and X 155. 5 Aravantinos
has dated the context of the more complete text (Ft 140) to the LH
IIIB2 by pottery associated with its destruction level; it was thus
among the last tablets written by the scribes working within the
palace of Thebes and reflects the political landscape of that time.
Funding for our project has been provided by the Institute for Aegean
Prehistory, the Loeb Classical Library Foundation, and private donors. Codirectors for the EBAP survey were V. Aravantinos, B. Burke, B. Burns, S.Lupack.
The current work at ancient Eleon is co-directed by A. Charami, B. Burke, and B.
Burns. We continue to be grateful for financial support from the Institute for
Aegean Prehistory, private donors, and, recently, for an Insight Grant from the
Social Sciences, Humanities Research Council of Canada (#435-2012-0185).
3
Bintliff et al. 2002; Bintliff, Howard, and Snodgrass, 1999; 2007; Bintliff and
Slapzac 2007; Bintliff and Snodgrass 1985; Fossey 1988; Fossey and Morin, 1989;
Hope Simpson and Dickinson 1979; Hope Simpson and Hagel 2006; Van Effenterre
1989.
4
Fossey 1988: 89-95.
5
Aravantinos, Godart, Sacconi 2001; Aravantinos, Godart, Sacconi 2002;
Aravantinos, Del Freo, Godart 2005; Aravantinos 2008; Del Freo 2009.
2

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BRENDAN BURKE, BRYAN BURNS & ALEXANDRA CHARAMI


The earliest reference to Eleon in historical texts is the Iliad's
Catalogue of Ships (2.500), one of the 29 cities of the Boeotian
force headed to Troy.6 A second passage of the Iliad remembers
Eleon as the origin of Odysseus' boar's tusk helmet, which comes
to him through a series of exchanges, the first one not a gift:
Autolykos, breaking into the close-built house, had stolen it from
Amyntor, the son of Ormenos, out of Eleon. 7 The only 5th-century
reference to the site is found in Herodotus, who describes
Antichares (a man of Eleon) as an advisor on where to locate the
Spartan colony of Heraclea on Sicily (5.43). Herodotus also relates
several oracular prophecies of Bakis (whom scholiasts link to
Eleon). Herodotus endorses his abilities based on the foretelling of
Greek victory after the Persian sack of Athens (8.77), though other
prophecies were ignored by the Euboeans (8.20) and
misinterpreted by the Persians (9.43). Pausanias relates similar
episodes about Bakis, but nothing about the site.
The most significant topographical reference to Eleon comes
much later, in the Roman geographer Strabo's description of
Tanagra and the region it controlled, which encompassed the
Tetrakomia, or the four settlements of Eleon, Harma, Mykalessos
and Pharai. 8 Two cities of the Tetrakomia, Harma and Mykalessos,
have fairly certain identifications with the sites found at
Lykovouni-Kastri and Rhitsona, respectively. Since Eleon is
mentioned first in Strabos list, locating it at our site, near modern
Arma, would give a geographical logic to the list, with the sites
running from the southwest to the northeast, in a clock-wise
direction. Strabo also mentions that the site is named for its
marshes: ,
(9.2.12).
The massive wall, built in the so-called Lesbian polygonal
style, is undoubtedly the most impressive visible feature from
antiquity in the area of Arma (formerly Dhrtsa), a village located
approximately 9 km west of Schimatari. The visible extent of this
wall follows a curved path at least 80 meters between two poorly
preserved towers along the east side of the acropolis, and is
Hope Simpson and Lazenby 1970.
Iliad 10.266-7, Lattimore trans.
8
See Wallace 1979.
6
7

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MEDITATIONS ON THE DIVERSITY OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT


preserved up to a height of 5 meters. The exterior face consists of
irregularly cut stones of local dark limestone, most measuring
more than one square-meter, with many exceeding two meters in
length (Fig. 2). This massive, curving form, constitutes a highly
sophisticated version of polygonal masonry, and the wall thus
provides ample material for the consideration of stone
architecture as an expressive medium.
The Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project of the Canadian
Institute in Greece and the 9th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical
Antiquities puts a special focus on the site's prehistoric
occupation, in particular the material dating from the LH I
through LH IIIC periods. The prominence of the polygonal wall is,
however, equally compelling. 9 In the preface to Greek Fortifications,
Frederick Winter opined on the lack of excavated evidence for the
dating of ancient walls due to the neglect of fortifications in the
normal programme of excavation. 10 We hope to redress this longstanding issue with a comprehensive analysis of the polygonal wall
at Eleon. One of our primary research goals for the historical
phases of the excavation is to contextualize the construction of
this wall. Although we have not yet discovered evidence for a
conclusive dating of the walls construction, we here present the
current state of this on-going investigation. What follows is a
limited report on the state of our investigations at the midpoint of
our first full season of excavation at Eleon in 2012. We expect
continued excavation to both clarify some elements of the walls
architecture as well as enrich our appreciation for the sites
presence in the landscape of Classical Boeotia.

The Polygonal Wall at Eleon


The wall is the most prominent archaeological feature of
ancient Eleon. The Lesbian masonry style is named for its many
examples on the island of Lesbos and Aristotles description of the
See preliminary reports in Burke, Burns, Lupack and Aravantinos 2007; Burke
2009.
10
Winter 1971: ix. For recent work on early Greek fortifications, see Frederiksen
2011.
9

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BRENDAN BURKE, BRYAN BURNS & ALEXANDRA CHARAMI


builders' technique of bending a lead strip to measure the
curvature of one stone, creating a model for how to cut its
adjacent block: For when the thing is indefinite the rule also is
indefinite, like the leaden rule used in making the Lesbian moulding; the
rule adapts itself to the shape of the stone and is not rigid, and so too the
decree is adapted to the facts. 11 Peter Wilhelm Forchhammer, in the
mid-19th century, was the first scholar to use the term Lesbian to
refer to this style of ancient Greek wall, recognized easily by its
irregular, curvilinear blocks.12 Robert Scranton, in 1941, described
the Lesbian style of polygonal masonry as so curiously intricate,
so highly sophisticated, that no other time or place has equaled it
in elaboration of technical perfection. 13 Frederick Winter
followed this emphasis on the styles visual statement, arguing
that its origin developed out of more aesthetic than structural
priorities.14
The Eleon wall includes stones with the characteristic
Lesbian feature of curved joints, but many do have rectilinear
joins, uniquely fitting each adjacent block. The increased surface
contact of each block with the surrounding blocks created a very
stable circuit wall. 15 The well-cut polygonal blocks sit on
rusticated foundation blocks divided by an ashlar leveling course.
The continuous saw-tooth facing across the joining stones indicate
that the blocks received this dressing after they were fitted into
the wall. The result combines the ancient Greek love of beauty
with utility, making the architecture of Eleon an ornament that
would impress any visitor.
Well-dated examples of the curvilinear blocks of Lesbian style
masonry are almost exclusively limited to the archaic period, and

Arist. Eth. Nic V.10, 1137b30. Trans. W.D. Ross.


Forchhammer 1847: 5.
13
Scranton 1941: 25-27, fig. 3 (illustrating the wall at Eleon) and Cat. 160, Type A2
no. 11. See also Winter 1971: 171 n. 59. Lawrence 1979: 349 suggests a Hellenistic
date. Spencer 1995a: 33, states that the securely dated examples of Lesbian
masonry are all Archaic in date, except for one archaizing use in a grave
monument in the Kerameikos. See also des Courtils 1998 for additions to the
catalog of Scranton.
14
Winter 1971: 80-86.
15
On polygonal masonry and stability see Cooper 2000.
11
12

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MEDITATIONS ON THE DIVERSITY OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT


mostly to the Island of Lesbos. 16 The continuation of the style is
demonstrated by the Stoa of the Athenians at Delphi, dated to 480470 B.C. 17 Countering the assumption that all polygonal masonry is
Archaic, however, Cooper noted constructions using multilateral
blocks with straight sides that were built throughout the fifth
century and in Boeotia, especially during the fourth century. 18
The nearest comparable example to the Eleon wall is found in the
fortification walls of Classical Tanagra, approximately 9 km to the
southeast, dated by Duane Roller to early in the 4th c. B.C., most
likely after 386 B.C. when the Peace of Antalkidas terminated all
federal alliances and granted autonomy to nearly all Greek cities. 19
The role of Tanagra as an episodic rival to Thebes throughout the
5th and early 4th centuries B.C. may provide a political context for
new activity in eastern Beotia and the construction of the Eleon
wall. 20

The Wall
Today, however, the site is known for its wall. In our 2007
surface collection survey, we mapped the visible portions of the
wall using a total station and ArcView drafting software in
combination with satellite imagery (Fig. 3).21 The resulting image
demonstrates the pronounced curvature of the wall which is
unparalleled to our knowledge. None of the examples of Lesbian
polygonal masonry set their walls on a curved, concave path as at
Eleon. At its southern end is preserved a projecting square tower,
where at least two courses of rough foundation stones are capped
Frederiksen 2011: 65-68; for specific examples on Lesbos, see Spencer 1995b: 6164.
17
Coulton 1976: 234.
18
Cooper 2000: 171 emphasizes the significance of this fact contra the scholarly
tendency to emphasize polygonal masonry as characteristic of the archaic or
early classical periods.
19
Xenophon, Hellenika, V, 1, 31; Diodorus Siculus, XIV, 110, 3. Cf. Roller 1974: 2623.
20
See Buck 1979: 141-60; Hansen and Nielsen 2004: 434.
21
This work was done by a team from the Danish Institute at Athens led by Sigrid
Eliassen.
16

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BRENDAN BURKE, BRYAN BURNS & ALEXANDRA CHARAMI


by an ashlar leveling course and three courses of polygonal blocks.
The preserved height is five meters, but of course, here, as
elsewhere, much of the wall has been robbed away.
In 2011 we conducted limited trial excavations, including one
5 by 5 m trench located above a well-preserved stretch the wall.
We aimed to determine the state of preservation of the wall's
interior face and to assess the feasibility of large-scale excavation
in the zone adjacent to the wall. Cleaning away the surface level
fully revealed the rubble fill between the faces of cut stone, which
consists mostly of large boulders, between 0.80-1.2 m in size. We
also exposed the upper course of the wall's interior face,
confirming the substantial width of the wall at 3.66 meters. The
wall, therefore, required a huge amount of stones simply for its
filling material, and we suspect these large boulders may be
repurposed from earlier constructions on the site, and their shape
is indicative of Cyclopean masonry.
In 2012 we exposed much more of the wall's interior rubble
fill, and exposed the remains of a second tower. The leveling
course is all that is preserved as the curving section of the wall
transitions into a more rectilinear bastion (Fig. 4). The foundations
of this second tower indicate that the form and dimensions of this
bastion are comparable to that of the south tower, with an eastern
face measuring 6.9 meters. Only a few of the polygonal blocks are
preserved in situ on the north face, which possibly forms an entry
gate through the circuit wall. That the wall continues further
north has not yet been investigated through excavation, although
this is probable based on surface observations.
We can now appreciate the complex design of just one part of
Eleon's circuit wall. This curving portion with symmetrically
positioned towers no doubt created an impressive facade at the
site's most accessible entry. A steep drop-off determines the site's
southern and western edges; along the north side numerous
surface stones indicate a continuation of the wall along this
sloping boundary that will be explored in future seasons.
Our attempt to expose more of the wall has yet to produce
material from the specific period of its construction whether in
the Archaic or Classical periods. Rather, the vast majority of the
pottery from this area is of the Mycenaean period. This
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MEDITATIONS ON THE DIVERSITY OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT


corresponds with our survey results, where the densities of
identifiable Mycenaean ceramics were found across the acropolis
and the total number of prehistoric finds was consistently higher
than combined finds of all historic periods. We do see, however, a
concentration of the pottery from the Archaic-Classical-Hellenistic
periods clustered around the area of the polygonal wall. Among
the surface finds are cup fragments with zones of floral
decoration, which were found in conjunction with fragments of
four miniature vessels. Also from this part of the site is a blackfigure fragment preserving the image of a human figure walking
to the right on a ground-line with some hanging drapery to the
right of the figure. Similar to other Boeotian black-figure imagery,
this most likely represents a cult scene (Fig. 5). This and other
evidence suggests that ritual activity was located within and above
the polygonal wall. This theory has been strengthened by some
finds from the new excavations conducted in the first two weeks
of June 2012. An unstratified deposit of Classical cult material
includes more miniature vessels and black-figure ceramics, plus
figurines, including a tortoise and at least four fragmentary female
figurines (Fig. 6). This material most likely dates to the fifth
century B.C., but cannot be fixed with greater specificity because
of the type of material, as well as its depositional character. And of
course, it cannot be tied to the actual construction of the wall. It
may, however, indicate one aspect of life at Eleon during the
period of the wall's existence.
Our excavation along the wall will be expanded, and we hope
that further exploration of the foundations will produce material
to date the construction of the polygonal wall. Our initial test
trench has already produced surprising and suggestive results.
Rather than finding the foundations positioned directly on
bedrock, we have uncovered an earlier wall directly beneath the
north tower. At this point we only have material from the levels
directly above this earlier wall, and it is clearly Mycenaean in
character (Fig. 7). In fact, the identifiable types (including
Mainland polychrome, Yellow and Gray Minyan Ware, and Brown
Burnished ware) all suggest activity of the Early Mycenaean
period. No distinctive Archaic or Classical pottery was found in
this trench along and below the polygonal wall's foundation.
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BRENDAN BURKE, BRYAN BURNS & ALEXANDRA CHARAMI

Concluding Thoughts
The presence of an earlier, Mycenaean construction directly
beneath the Polygonal tower suggests that the Classical
inhabitants (or builders) at Eleon were well aware of the site's
earlier occupation. This underscores our own earlier observation
that the scale and overall effect of the polygonal wall is perhaps
similar to the well-dressed form of cyclopean masonry seen at
some Mycenaean citadel sites. Today, the site nearest to Eleon
with well-preserved Cyclopean masonry is Gla, but stretches of the
fortifications at Mycenae come closer to a polygonal form. We are
not suggesting a direct emulation of such Bronze Age walls, but
rather an aggrandizing statement of the site's importance and
perhaps its heritage.
While we cannot know if the shape of polygonal blocks was an
intentional invocation of the site's own Mycenaean history, the
complexity of the wall's construction suggests the builders did
intend to make a dramatic aesthetic statement. Spencer describes
the use of the masonry style on Lesbos as an unnecessarily
complicated method of wall construction undertaken by a skilled
workforce. The construction of the Eleon wall on its precise
leveling course and curving path further underscores its complex
design and fully embodies Spencer's characterization of Lesbian
masonry as an expensive, prestige style designed to impress. 22
This effort to monumentalize the sites eastern faade seems out of
proportion with other evidence for the status of classical Eleon.
The significance of the site as suggested by the elaborate wall
invoking Eleons impressive past, however, will likely be validated
with further excavation.

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Spencer 1995a: 33.

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Figure 1. View from the south of ancient Eleon wall and the excavation area
(photo B. Burke)

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BRENDAN BURKE, BRYAN BURNS & ALEXANDRA CHARAMI

Figure 2. Polygonal wall of ancient Eleon, southern tower and east faade
(photo B. Burke)

Figure 3. Topographic map of ancient Eleon, showing location of above surface


remains and location of northern tower exposed by 2012 excavation
(drawing D. Bhatia, N. Edwards, and T. Ross)

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MEDITATIONS ON THE DIVERSITY OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT

Figure 4. Schematic plan of polygonal wall's northern tower and Mycenaean


wall revealed at lower level (drawing G. Bianco)

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BRENDAN BURKE, BRYAN BURNS & ALEXANDRA CHARAMI

Figure 5. Miniature cult vessels and black figure fragments from ancient Eleon
(photo B. Burke)

Figure 6. Terracotta figurine from ancient Eleon, ca. 5th century B.C.
(photo B. Burke)

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MEDITATIONS ON THE DIVERSITY OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT

Figure 7. Early Mycenaean sherds from Mycenaean wall below northern bastion
(photo B. Burke)

264