Three New Sites in the Eastern Corinthia
Sorry about the brief intermission in blogging. I was attending the 110th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. I’ll blog some tomorrow on my discussions there. (And I’ll get back to my regular blogging routine as the semester starts today!).
For now, here is our paper delivered on Friday (with the SLIDE notes and all). Thanks to all the folks who offered comments, comparanda, and encouragement. It was really heartening to see the room filled for the paper. For more on our research in the Eastern Corinthia see the links at the bottom of this post.
“Three New Sites in the Eastern Corinthia”
William R. Caraher, University of North Dakota
David K. Pettegrew, Messiah College
Delivered at the 110th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America
Philadelphia, PA January 9, 2009
Over the last several decades, regional programs of archaeological research have populated the Greek countryside with Classical and Hellenistic farmsteads, buildings, monuments, and places associated with the ephemeral activities of rural life [SLIDE]. Among the most debated type of site are rural towers which have been variously interpreted as storage facilities for farmsteads, communication beacons, local strongholds, and even slave quarters. If little consensus has emerged regarding their function in the Greek countryside, it is because even modest variation in form and context can indicate major differences in the function of these installations. The best way forward in interpreting the function of these buildings [SLIDE] is to make arguments based on a refined understanding of their local historical, archaeological, and topographical contexts.
Our paper today seeks to place a series of three newly discovered rural installations in the Eastern Korinthia into their local context [SLIDE]. The sites are Ano Vayia, Lychnari, and Kato Vayia and were first discovered in 2003 during the course of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. With the continued support of the project’s directors and with a study permit provided by the Ephoria of Classical Antiquities, we returned to the sites in 2008 to document the visible architecture and to study the ceramic artifacts collected in previous seasons. While our analysis of these towers should contribute to the broader discussion of the significance and function of the rural installations, our principal aim of this paper is to provide specific information on the Late Classical and Hellenistic landscape of the Eastern Corinthia. [SLIDE] Despite two decades of intensive regional survey throughout the Corinthia, the coastal zone of the Eastern Corinthia south of the modern town of Loutro Elenis and north of the harbor of Korphos has been largely overlooked. Recent work in this microregion has produced a dynamic landscape of agriculturally productive land, mountain passes, and small harbors occupied at least as early as the Bronze Age. The presence of Classical-Hellenistic rural buildings in this area suggests that it was a significant component of the Corinthian chora.
Topography of the Vayia/Lychnari Area
The importance of this area for the city of Corinth lies in its place within communication and travel networks between the Isthmus and the Epidauria. The rocky spine of Mt. Oneion forms the dramatic southern boundary to the flat plain of the Corinthian Isthmus [SLIDE], stretching from the imposing rock of Acrokorinth to the harbor town of Kenchreai in the east. To move south along the eastern coast of the Korinthia, avoiding both Corinth and the fortifications near Kenchreai, required crossing Mt. Oneion through several passes fortified during the Late Classical period. Once south of the mountain there were several routes through the mountainous country of the southeastern Korinthia. [SLIDE] These routes provided access to cultivatable valleys and unfortified settlements, roads west into the Argolid and south into the Epidauria, and several ancient embayments.
The bay of Lychnari is one of the best natural inlets on the rugged coast of the Eastern Corinthia [SLIDE]. While no evidence for ancient harbor works has been found there, its sheltered aspect and relatively flat beach would have been well-suited for ancient ships. The peninsula known as Vayia shields the small bay from the east and the rocky hilltop of Lychnari protects the bay below from the western wind. Lychnari Bay opens inland onto a relatively broad valley bounded to the north by the coastal ridge and to the south by the abrupt mountains of the Corinthian interior. [SLIDE] The valley bottom provides relatively easy passage from the vicinity of Lychnari bay and the nearby village of Katakali northwestward to the low hills south of Oneion, where are today the modern villages of Almyri, Loutro Elenis, and Galataki, and in antiquity, the settlement of Solygeia. Further north, passing over the low hill of Stanotopi, is the Isthmus of Corinth and the harbor town of Kenchreai.
Immediately to the east of Lychnari, a small, pebbly beach sits at the mouth of the seasonal Vayia river. [SLIDE]. Walking inland from this beach, it is easy to turn west toward Lychnari bay over the low northern end of the Vayia peninsula. An ascent up the steep, but not unmanageable southern bank of the Vayia River affords access to a high pass that runs southward below the coastal height of Kakia Rachi. [SLIDE] This pass leads to the bay of Frangolimano whence a traveler can proceed inland, past the fortified Classical site of Ay. Paraskevi and onward toward the valley of Sophiko and the Epidauria beyond.
Remains in the Vayia Area
The most extensive remains in the region of Lychnari and Vayia stand atop the hill that we have called Ano Vayia to distinguish it from the site of Kato Vayia below [SLIDE]. The remains consist of a long, north-south oriented complex constructed of rough polygonal masonry. Its most imposing feature is its western wall which is preserved to a height of over 1 m [SLIDE]. In several places along the course of the wall, it is clear that the builders cut back bedrock to form a solid base for the building [SLIDE]. At its midway point, there is a gap in the wall of slightly over 2 m where the bedrock was trimmed back [SLIDE]. This gap, which divides our complex into northern and southern structures, presumably represents an entrance to an east-west corridor between the different parts of the building. The corridor runs eastward to the foundation of a round tower [SLIDE]. The lowest course of the tower remains in situ and suggests a structure with a diameter of 6.2 m. The carefully-coursed stones preserved roughly-cut, curved profiles on their outer faces. A considerable quantity of similarly curved stones are scattered down the eastern side of the hill. The round tower is clearly a component of the rest of the compound but the exact architectural relationship is unclear.
In conjunction with the initial planning of the site, members of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey conducted a small-scale, highly localized, intensive pedestrian survey of the Ano Vayia hill [SLIDE]. Unsurprisingly, this survey established that the densest concentration of material occurred around the architecture present on the
top of the hill with dramatically declining densities further down the slope. The units immediately adjacent to the collapsed buildings showed artifact densities of nearly 2,000 artifacts per hectare which were comparable to the generally high artifact density that EKAS documented across the busy Corinthian Isthmus. It seems probable that the material in the immediate vicinity of the collapsed buildings represents a distinct and localized phenomenon in the landscape.
Aside from a small number of Late Medieval and Early Modern sherds, the ceramic assemblage at Ano Vayia dates to the Late Classical-Early Hellenistic period. The most common class of artifacts present are slipped Laconian and Corinthian roof tiles [SLIDE]. These tiles were present not only on the surface of the ground around the buildings, but amidst the tumble on the interior of the structures, and indicate that at least part of the structure was roofed. The different kinds of roof tiles, as well as visible repairs to the north wall of the south structure, suggest distinct episodes of construction at the complex.
In addition to the tiles, there are numerous pithos sherds [SLIDE] and, less commonly, Corinthian B and A amphora sherds and Classical-Hellenistic cooking wares. The scatter is almost completely utilitarian nature. The pithos and amphora sherds, in particular, suggest that storage was a priority at the site. The paucity of kitchen ware and the absence of fine wares suggest that the occupation of the building atop Ano Vayia was relatively short term or at least not very intensive. Fine wares and kitchen wares are far less common in use assemblages than amphoras and storage wares, and typically appear only after occupations of considerable length or intensity.
The second major site documented by the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey lies on the hill of Lychnari immediately to the north of the bay with the same name [SLIDE]. On its eastern side some 20 m to the southeast of the geodetic marker are the remains of another round tower. Like the fortifications at Ano Vayia, the tower is coursed, rough polygonal in construction and includes stones of massive size. The walls are relatively very well-preserved [SLIDE]. The outer face is traceable for two-thirds of its circuit producing a tower of over 8 meters in diameter with walls over 1 m in width. [SLIDE] While today the remains stand only 1.5 m in height, Young’s informal estimate of heights for these towers suggest that their height could be 2 – 2.5 times their diameter. If this is even a rough indicator, the tower may have stood to over 15 meters in height. The tower at Lychnari can be dated to the Classical to Hellenistic period on the basis of pottery imbedded in the tumble of the building and scattered around the general area. The assemblage, which was not documented intensively, included pithoi, amphoras, and painted Corinthian tile fragments. This material is consistent with the rough-polygonal masonry and date the structure within a significant margin of reliability. We observed only one later ceramic fragment, an early Roman lamp fragment dating to the 1st-2nd century AD, found in the vicinity of the tower.
The Remains Near Vayia
The final group of remains likely datable to the Late Classical – Hellenistic period stand on the peninsula of Vayia proper which projects northwestward into the Saronic Gulf and shelters the eastern side of the harbor of Lychnari [SLIDE]. The remains on the peninsula are poorly preserved so it is not possible to determine its complete plan. They exist amidst a scatter of ceramic material that is very similar to the utilitarian and coarse material found around Ano Vayia and the tower at Lychnari. Moreover, the rubble construction style is similar to the fortifications documented at both Stanotopi and by this author on the heights of Mt. Oneion.
The most clearly defined features at Vayia are a series of long rubble walls and extensive piles of tumble [SLIDE]. The best preserved wall runs for close to 40 m from southeast to northwest, curving slightly to follow the natural contours of the peninsula and bounding the western side of the level area along the top of the Vayia ridge. This wall is constructed of unworked, local grey limestone stacked in irregular courses to form two faces approximately 1 m apart, with cobble fill between the faces. [SLIDE] There are several square rooms that project into the interior of this rubble enceinte. While it is nearly impossible to offer a definitive interpretation of this complex of walls on the Vayia peninsula, the uniformity of the ceramics associated with the structures and the extensive system of rubble walls recommends a fortification of the Classical – Hellenistic period. The closest analogy in the Corinthia for this kind of informal construction are the walls on Stantopi and Oneion which are similarly constructed of rubble masonry and situated atop strategically significant heights.
Discussion: Function, Topography, and History
Recent scholarship has associated isolated rural towers in the countryside with economic purposes such as agricultural storage, fortified farmsteads, and quarters for slaves involved in mining endeavors.
At present, we see several reasons for concluding that the sites in the vicinity of Lychnari bay functioned chiefly to protect this agriculturally rich and strategically significant stretch of the Corinthian countryside [SLIDE]. First, the position of the Lychnari and Ano Vayia towers at the highest points in their landscape encourage us to understand these structures as military installations guarding the travel and transportation corridors through the region. The Lychnari tower sits on the far western side of the Lychnari hill and was positioned to overlook Lychnari Bay and the north coast of the Corinthia rather than the agricultural lands extending to the east below. The Ano Vayia tower overlooked the pass from Frangolimano as well as the Vayia River valley rather than the agricultural land to its south and east. The towers are intervisible and would have provided good views to all major routes by land and sea.
Second, these towers were also clearly visible both from the land routes through the region and from the Saronic Gulf. If the function of these towers were only for local land owners to protect their human or material property, one can imagine less obvious locations that would provide similar views toward the land and sea but without being so prominent in the landscape.
A third and final piece of evidence is that none of these three sites produces the variety of ceramics that would be consistent with longer-term habitation. Certainly the Lychnari and the Ano Vayia tower may have supported habitation (in addition to military functions), but the dearth of kitchen wares and fine wares at least suggests that occupation of these towers was on the low-investment and short-term end of the spectrum. We can contrast the rather bare-bones ceramic assemablage of these three sites with the typical Classical-Hellenistic assemblage observed elsewhere, on the Corinthian Isthmus, where amphora, cooking wares, and fine wares are typically found together and in abundance. The utilitarian character of the Vayia and Lynchnari assemblages, when taken together with the evidence from topography outlined above, are more consistent with what we would expect from a fortified garrison than a family farm. It is, of course, possible that further clearing and excavation would reveal a wider diversity of ceramics that
could change this interpretation.
Historical evidence for Corinthian fortification during the Classical to Hellenistic period tend to focus on efforts to block military forces from moving through the Isthmus. In general, the various states that sought to fortify the Isthmus were not concerned with defending Corinthian territory, per se. In contrast to these better-known fortifications, the towers in the vicinity of Lychnari did little to protect the Peloponnesus generally [SLIDE]. Armies that bypassed the fortifications along the Isthmus by sea en route to the Peloponnesus avoided the fortifications at Lychnari as well. Consequently, it is logical to read these sites as installations of the either the Corinthian state or even local residents in an effort to fortify its territory. The ease with which an army could pass north from the bay at Lychnari or even Frangolimano into Corinthian chora south of Oneion made the fortification of this stretch of coastline a crucial component of any strategy to protect Corinthian territory. [SLIDE] Unlike the massive trans-isthmian efforts built in response to particular threats, the Corinthians could have built these smaller, regional towers at almost any point over the course of the Classical and Hellenistic period.