Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Eirini M. Dimitriadou, Athens: Settlements and Cemeteries in the Submycenaean, Geometric and Archaic Periods. Monumenta archaeologica, 42. Los Angeles: UCLA, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2019. Pp. 608. ISBN 9781938770159. $139.00.

Reviewed by Maximilian F. Rönnberg, University of Tübingen (

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

This book has its origin in the author's 2012 PhD dissertation, for which she compiled all the Submycenaean to Late Archaic (mostly small-scale) excavations within the area of the city of Classical Athens and its immediate surroundings and comprehensively evaluated them in terms of settlement history. Even though Dimitriadou did not turn to unpublished material, this can be considered a monumental undertaking and an incredibly important basis for further research—which is why her dissertation, accessible online,1 was already widely used. The newly published book, essentially an English translation of the thesis, comprises no significant additions to Dimitriadou's data, as literature which appeared after the summer of 2011 was not systematically taken into account. However, the reworking led to improvements in many details, and the translation will surely make her work much more accessible.

The volume consists of three parts: Part I, the actual text, features a short introduction (pp. 1–18); three extensive chapters on the Submycenaean (pp. 19–69), the (Proto-)Geometric (pp. 71–164) and the Archaic (pp. 165–238) periods; general conclusions (pp. 239–246); and an epilogue with a short overview of data published after the completion of Dimitriadou's database in ADelt B 56–59 (2001–2004[2011]) to ADelt B 64 (2009[2014]). Part II is a gazetteer of 168 archaeological sites arranged into 13 areas mostly corresponding to modern neighborhoods (excluding the well-published Kerameikos graves and the sanctuary on the Acropolis). It presents all the relevant contexts in detail, including the original plans, within which Dimitriadou's three phases of interest (Submycenaean, [Proto-]Geometric and Archaic) as well as the ensuing Classical phases have been highlighted in different colors. This will make her book a major reference volume for a long time — even though consultation of the original reports remains vital.2 The gazetteer is followed by indices of archaeological sites by area as well as in alphabetical order, an appendix of ancient sources purportedly relevant for Early Athens, an appendix of tables presenting the development of sites with settlement and mortuary activity by areas and periods, a list of figures, references and a useful general index. Part III consists of 86 most helpful digital maps of individual areas, periods, or types of deposits, accessible online, within which the multiple layers can be separately adjusted.3

The introduction gives a history of research, explains the topographic organization of the data and deals with problems resulting from incomplete publications of rescue excavations. The chapters on the individual periods first shortly introduce the available evidence, with the mortuary sites following the habitational ones, and then feature lengthy syntheses ending in conclusions on the development of the settlement. They give a very good overview of the evidence; selected contexts and finds are illustrated. It might have been preferable to consider the LHIIIC contexts more systematically, which Dimitriadou understands as partly contemporaneous to Submycenaean, and a clearer separation of the Early Archaic (7th c. BCE) and later Archaic phases would also have been useful.4

Dimitriadou's conclusions may be shortly summarized in the following way: There is no (or very little) settlement in the area of the Classical Agora in the EIA, but the Acropolis is the 'settlement nucleus'. In the Submycenaean period, Athens exhibited a 'dispersed pattern', which continued, but expanded the LH one with the creation of new cemeteries. Mortuary sites were originally close to, but still detached from domestic spaces and always close to important roads. In the Protogeometric and Geometric periods, an increasing population resulted in the settlement expanding further, especially to the North, while a large necropolis containing smaller cemeteries developed in the South — even though other burial sites emerged elsewhere. This gradually led to a closing of empty spaces, with cemeteries incrementally blocking the further enlargement of domestic areas, in turn causing the relocation of burials into the periphery. "By the end of the eighth century BC, Athens was a sprawling settlement consisting of many habitation nuclei with its center the old citadel, where all kinds of human activity were interwoven with one another and the use of spaces was mixed" (p. 243). The Archaic period then saw a hardly traceable further evolution, until "by the end of the Archaic period, Athens had acquired the basic form it was to keep and develop during Classical times […] This was the endpoint of a long and gradual process spanning at least two centuries" (p. 222).

This basic picture surely is convincing. Nevertheless, one wonders what it actually means that the Acropolis was always the (continuously inhabited) 'center' of Athens — is this just a geographical indication (as soon as the Mycenaean palace which Dimitriadou suspects was discontinued)? And what does it mean that "Athens began to acquire features of a city (polis) from the late eighth century BC" (p. 15 n. 1)? That the many known burial sites (fig. 4.19) all were meaningfully connected to roads seems difficult to believe — and that "the inhabitants lived […] not among the graves but in organized settlements that were possibly small in area and number of inhabitants, although more than two or three houses" (p. 141) is debatable, since the actual settlement remains are largely missing. The more common view that there was no clear boundary between spaces of the living and those of the dead (and the emerging sanctuaries) may come closer to the truth5 — and the Acropolis, which Dimitriadou cautiously suspects to have had multiple uses (pp. 111–113), may be an excellent case for this. Thus, 'dispersed settlement' may not imply an (Aristotelian) κατά-κώμας-model (p. 126), but rather "dispersed low-density habitation".6

A second set of problems concerns the Agora: Dimitriadou strives hard to refute the purported view of Desborough and others that this was "the space where the initial nucleus of settlement developed" (p. 38), "the (one and only) settlement nucleus" (p. 241). Yet, neither Desborough nor anybody else seems to have ever thought that the Agora was the initial nucleus or the only SubM/PG settlement area of Athens. It may be worthwhile to quote Desborough's pages which Dimitriadou herself refers to: He first wrote that "there was a Protogeometric settlement on the north slope of the Areopagus", but also that "there was […] settlement to the south of the Acropolis as well as to the north of it";7 later, he stressed the wide dispersion of PG finds within Athens and reflected on a large settled area separated in "small groups or pockets of inhabitants".8 This actually seems very close to what Dimitriadou suspects. Apart from this, she continuously repeats Papadopoulos' (her third supervisor) conclusion that the area of the Classical Agora was not a settlement site, but the 'original Kerameikos', an area used for pottery production and burial. Unfortunately, Dimitriadou does not consider the many critics of this theory — which seems hardly convincing when we take into account that fewer than a fifth of the Agora wells (and related deposits) seem to have included production discards and that even there, they made up only a small part of the total objects recovered.9 Especially when we consider that EIA pottery workshops seem to have been closely connected with houses elsewhere in Greece,10 it seems most probable that the area was a settled one additionally featuring workshops and surrounded (pp. 117–118) by burial grounds. This would also fit the more recent interpretation of the 'oval house' as a domestic building, which Dimitriadou still thinks is a 'heroon' (pp. 87, 167, 226 n. 18).11 The residential activity of the Archaic period then would be the continuation of an older pattern, even though the use for burials successively ceased. This takes us to a last point: Dimitriadou most convincingly shows a "gradual transformation from private to public" (p. 191) in the central part of the Agora within the 6th (or maybe starting already in the 7th) c. BCE (pp. 191–194, 202, 211). She, however, cannot accept the conclusion that this shows the emergence of a public space because she firmly believes in an 'Archaic' Agora east of the Acropolis. This interpretation based solely on problematic interpretations of much later sources, though, has meanwhile been convincingly refuted.12 The "founding of the Classical Agora" then may not express "the fundamental principles of the […] democratic governance of the city" (p. 202) but is again the endpoint of a long process.

In view of the merits of Dimitriadou's book, these are, of course, minor points. It will not end the discussions on the form of Early Athens but will be the most important starting point for future research. Dimitriadou clearly shows that there is much Early Athens beyond the well-known sites of the Kerameikos and the Agora. She did the scholarly community a great service in drawing the attention to the wealth of data available.


1.   Ε. Μ. Δημητριάδου, Πρώιμη Αθήνα (1100–480 π.Χ.). Παρατηρήσεις στην οικιστική εξέλιξη και στα νεκροταφεία (PhD diss. Athens 2012); see Didaktorika.
2.   Α minor drawback are rare misdatings, see e.g. Cat. X. 2 (MG, not PG); sometimes, the dating is inconsistent, see e.g. Cat. V. 1 (EG, not MG). More exact datings for Cat. X. 24 are provided by Ο. Βιζυηνού, Ταφικά έθιμα στην Αττική και την Εύβοια, 1200–700 π.Χ. Τα κτερίσματα ως τεκμήριο διάκρισης του φύλου και της ηλικίας των νεκρών (PhD diss. Ioannina 2010) II, 186–192.
3.   Note that the introduction and the table of contents include wrong links; the right one is UCLA.
4.   The Archaic period is subdivided in the discussion of the finds from the area of the Agora only. Protogeometric and Geometric are only one category in the gazetteer, but the respective chapter separates PG, EG/MG and LG.
5.   See e.g. A. Mazarakis Ainian, Buried Among the Living in Early Iron Age Greece: Some Thoughts, ScAnt 14, 2007/2008, 365–398.
6.   V. V. Stissi, Survey, Excavation and the Appearance of the Early Polis. A Reappraisal, in: J. L. Bintliff (ed.), The Archaeology of Greece and Rome. Studies in Honour of Anthony Snodgrass (Edinburgh 2016) 31–53, quoted at p. 46.
7.   V. R. d. A. Desborough, Protogeometric Pottery (Oxford 1952) 1.
8.   V. R. d. A. Desborough, The Greek Dark Ages (London 1972) 137.
9.   See e.g. E. Greco, Ceramicus Redivivus? Spunti per la discussione di un libro recente, Workshop di archeologia classica 2, 2005, 15–20; I. S. Lemos, Athens and Lefkandi: A Tale of Two Sites, in: S. Deger-Jalkotzy – I. S. Lemos (Hrsg.), Ancient Greece: From the Mycenaean Palaces to the Age of Homer (Edinburgh 2006) 505–530, esp. 514; M. C. Monaco, Dix ans après: nouvelles données et considérations à propos du Céramique d'Athènes, in: A. Esposito – G. M. Sanidas (ed.), 'Quartiers' artisanaux en Grèce ancienne. Une perspective méditerranéenne (Villeneuve d'Ascq 2012) 155–174, esp. 157. For the potters' refuse, see J. K. Papadopoulos, Ceramicus Redivivus: the Early Iron Age Potters' Field in the Area of the Classical Athenian Agora, Hesperia Suppl. 31 (Princeton 2003), esp. p. 5. The full publication of these deposits is eagerly awaited.
10.   A. Mazarakis Ainian, Des quartiers specialisés d'artisans à l'époque géométrique, in: A. Esposito – G. M. Sanidas (ed.), 'Quartiers' artisanaux en Grèce ancienne. Une perspective méditerranéenne (Villeneuve d'Ascq 2012) 125–154.
11.   See most recently F. van den Eijnde – M. H. Laughy, The Areopagus Oval Building Reconsidered, in: A. Mazarakis Ainian – A.-F. Alexandridou – X. Charalambidou (ed.), Regional Stories: Towards a New Perception of the Early Greek World. An International Symposium in Honour of Professor Jan Bouzek, University of Thessaly, Volos, 18–21 June 2015 (Volos 2017) 229–248.
12.   See most comprehensively A. Doronzio, L'Archaia Agorà di Apollodoro e Melanzio. Considerazioni su un problema topografico dell'Atene di età arcaica, NunAntCl 40, 2011, 15–85.

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