A new (neon) gatehouse for Housesteads Roman Fort

One of the first things a classicist does after moving to Durham is, obviously, to pay a visit to Hadrian’s Wall: the wall begun by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 122 CE to mark the northern frontier of the Roman empire in Britain, whihc now runs across Cumbria and Northumberland. Housesteads is one of several forts along the wall that can be visited today – in fact, the best preserved of the forts, with remains of the four gateways, commander’s house, soldiers’ barracks, the hospital, granaries, and the famous toilets. Of course, in Roman archaeology, ‘best preserved’ still generally means a series of low stone walls marking the outlines of the buildings. Right now, though, Housesteads is looking a bit different – and more colourful – than usual:

In the foreground, the remains of a granary: a low rectangular wall of grey stone with short stone pillars covering the floor on the inside. In the background, a large, colourful structure with two arched doorways in the middle and towers with pointed roofs on either side, made up of multiple neon-coloured panels with symbols and text on them
Housesteads: granary and gatehouse
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A tour of Mycenaean Thebes

Banners on the wall of the Archaeological Museum of Thebes, showing finds including statues, a fresco, and the name Thebes in Linear B

Last (for now!) in my series of virtual tours of Mycenaean sites, following Tiryns and Mycenae in the north-east Peloponnese, is this tour of Thebes in Boeotia, north-west of Athens (Myceanean te-qa Thēgwai, classical Greek Θῆβαι Thēbai, modern Greek Θήβα Thiva).

This one is a bit different from the last two, because unlike most other Mycenaean palatial sites we know, the citadel of Thebes has been continuously occupied from the Bronze Age to the present day – so the central area of the Mycenaean site corresponds more or less exactly to the modern town centre. Evidently, this makes excavation a challenge; much of the work that’s been done has been rescue excavations before construction work, so relatively few of the excavated areas remain visible, and because excavations have taken place in lots of separate, mostly unconnected sites, it’s very hard to get a joined-up picture of the Mycenaean citadel as a whole. Below is a Google map of locations mentioned in this post; this interactive map, the product of Dr Anastasia Dakouri-Hild’s ‘Digital Thebes’ project’, is also handy for seeing where excavations have taken place even where the results are not visible (you can choose various layers to show finds from different time-periods, including plans of buildings which may be associated with the Mycenaean (Late Helladic) palace and findspots of ‘palatial’-type objects such as Linear B inscriptions, frescoes, and craft workshops).

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A tour of Mycenae

Following on from last year’s virtual tour of the Mycenaean site of Tiryns, now it’s the turn of the site after which the “Mycenaean” societies of Late Bronze Age Greece are named – Mycenae (ancient Greek Μυκήναι, modern Greek Μυκήνες Mikines). This impressive fortified citadel is only about 20km from Tiryns, which was probably a subordinate/secondary site to Mycenae (although the exact relationship between the two is disputed), so if travelling by car the two can easily be done in one trip. Read on for the tour!

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A tour of Mycenaean Tiryns

The Mycenaean palace of Tiryns (Τίρυνθα), located in the Argolid between Argos and Nafplio, has been known since ancient times for its impressive fortifications, made of stones so large they were said to have been built by the Cyclopes. It’s a site well worth visiting if you’re in the area, and after a recent trip there, I thought I’d share some photos and information here as a virtual tour.

Photograph of tall stone fortification wall, with river bed to left and blocks of stone on ground in front
Panoramic view of the fortifications of Tiryns from near the north end of the lower citadel; the upper citadel is to the right
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Visiting the Palace of Nestor at Pylos – virtually

I’m finding it hard to believe it’s been over two years since I visited the archaeological site my research focuses on – the Mycenaean ‘Palace of Nestor’ at Pylos in Messenia (south-western mainland Greece). The nostalgia’s been brought on by the team behind the excavation of the ‘Griffin Warrior Tomb‘ sharing some links earlier today to virtual tours of reconstructions of what the palace may have looked like before it was destroyed around 1200 BCE. Here’s the most extensive, from ‘Ancient Athens 3D‘: since it doesn’t have captions, I’ve provided a bit of commentary below, along with pictures of what these parts of the palace actually look like now. Enjoy the tour!

The tour starts with the front porch, and then heads through into the courtyard inside.

It then detours outside to the ‘Southwestern Building’, showing the frescoes in its porch. There’s another, more detailed reconstruction just of this building available here. Finally, the tour goes back into the main building, through the courtyard and a small vestibule (more frescoes) to the megaron or throne room, with its large central hearth and elaborate frescoes of griffins surrounding the throne. Here you can see not just the reconstruction and the actual view of the room now, but also some of the fragments from which the frescoes have been reconstructed.

 

As you can see from all these pictures, quite a lot of imagination can be needed when trying to reconstruct how a two-story, highly decorated building which now survives only as low walls and painted fragments might originally have looked!

All photographs by author, taken in the archaeological site of the Palace of Nestor and in the Chora Museum.

Touring the Balkans with the Ladies of Ploutarchou 9 — From the Archivist’s Notebook

A nice post here from Jack Davis about the travels of two American archaeologists, Ida Thallon Hill and Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, around the Balkans in the 1930s:

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here writes about women travelling alone through the western Balkans in the late 1930s, on the eve of WW II. The […]

via Touring the Balkans with the Ladies of Ploutarchou 9 — From the Archivist’s Notebook

Epigraphic explorations of Athens

Being an epigrapher – someone who studies inscriptions – definitely means that I pay a lot more attention to the different kinds of writing that I see as I walk around a city, and that happens even more when I’m learning a language and so trying to practice reading as much as possible. While walking around Athens during my recent stay there, I found myself thinking a lot about the similarities between the kinds of inscriptions I was seeing and classical Greek and Roman inscriptions — particularly when it came to graffiti, which is something that Athens has a LOT of, and of which quite a lot of ancient examples also survive, mainly from the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Ostia. Here’s one of the nicest (most optimistic) graffiti messages I saw in Athens, which reads “Αθήνα η πόλη της τέχνης και της ελπίδας!!” (Athina i poli tis tehnis ke tis elpithas) — “Athens, the city of art and of hope!!”

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Visiting the Palace of Nestor at Pylos

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Road sign outside the palace

For the last year and a half or so, I’ve been working on a research project about the scribes who wrote the Linear B tablets from one particular Mycenaean site, the ‘Palace of Nestor’ at Pylos in Messenia, south-western Greece (so-called because in the Iliad Nestor was the king of Pylos). I’m interested in how these scribes actually went about writing tablets, or learning to write tablets — lately I’ve been looking mostly at the way they spell particular words or sequences, and why even an individual scribe’s spelling can vary, as well as at issues to do with how and why scribes erase parts of their documents and make changes. Pylos is a particularly good site to start studying this because almost all of its Linear B tablets are contemporaneous — made of unfired clay, they were all baked and so preserved by the fire that destroyed the palace around 1200 BCE — so it’s possible to study the 25 scribes who have been identified by handwriting analysis as an inter-related community of writers who must have been trained and worked together. But although I’ve been studying the tablets from this site for some time, I’d never been able to actually visit it before now – so it was incredibly exciting to finally get the chance to see it in person. Continue reading “Visiting the Palace of Nestor at Pylos”

Anafiotika: a Cycladic island in Athens

Last weekend I encountered a fascinating piece of (relatively recent) Athenian history – the tiny area of Anafiotika. Perched above the tourist shops and restaurants of Plaka, just beneath the Acropolis, this cluster of houses dates back to the mid-19th century, when King Otto I of Greece brought builders from the Cycladic island of Anafi to build his palace (now the Greek parliament building on Syntagma Square). These people built themselves a village on the slopes of the Acropolis in the style of the architecture from their own island, after which they named it Anafiotika. Only a small cluster of houses now remains, but wandering through the area is still like walking around a Cycladic island, past houses with whitewashed walls and brightly coloured doors and shutters – if it weren’t for the occasional view of the city or the Acropolis above, it would be easy to forget you were in Athens at all.

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Archaic statues and Eleusinian mysteries at the Acropolis Museum

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The Acropolis from the top floor of the museum

Athens’ Acropolis Museum is, naturally, best known for its display of sculptures from the Parthenon (in a mixture of originals and casts, many of the originals being, controversially, in the British Museum). Stunning though this top-floor display is, with views straight across to the Parthenon from the galley (see photo, unfortunately taken on a rather cloudy day), it’s not actually my favourite part of the museum – that prize goes to the first-floor display of the older archaic sculptures, dating from the 7th century to the early 5th century BCE (the Parthenon was built in the mid-5th century). Some of these sculptures are from the pediments of earlier temples on the Acropolis, destroyed during the Persian invasion of 480/479 BCE; others are freestanding statues set up on the Acropolis as dedications to the goddess Athena. (I can’t post photos here as you’re not allowed to take photos of the collections, but there is a nice selection of pictures available on the museum’s website). Continue reading “Archaic statues and Eleusinian mysteries at the Acropolis Museum”