Jul. 25th, 2012

hawkwing_lb: (In Vain)
The Kerameikos, or "Potters' Quarter," as you can see lies here to the north of the temple of Hephaistos, cut off from the modern agora today by the Peiraeus railway line. The railway line also cuts the line of the Panathenaic Way, which led from the gate (to the north here), south into the agora and up to the acropolis. This area takes its name from the deme of Karemeis, from which we get the word ceramic. Excavations began here in 1870, and continued from 1913 until today under the auspices of the German Institute.

It covered an area from the northwest corner from the agora to site of Plato's Academy outside the city walls, and thus covers a large amount of ground. The cemetary only covered that part of the deme outside the city walls: both Pausanias and Philostratos used the word "Kerameikos" to refer to buildings in the area we now know as the Classical agora. So it's not just a cemetary, people! It was also an industrial quarter. What did it mainly produce? Not pots, surprisingly, according to the evidence. Although during the Roman period, lamp-making was a big thing around here. But since we've mentioned pots, will someone tell me something about black and red figure pottery?

The excavated area here is only a small part of the ancient deme, which was marked by boundary stones, some of which have been preserved. You see here below us the valley of the River Eridanos, marshy and possibly malarial in antiquity. The city wall - part of which, from the time of the Persian wars, you see preserved right here - divided the area in two. Two important gates of the city have been excavated here. The larger eastern one is the Dipylon gate leading to the Academy, near which the famous Geometric Dipylon vase was discovered, which you may see tomorrow on the second floor of the Archaeological Museum. The smaller one is the so-called Sacred Gate, which leads onto the Eleusis road, and through which the River Eridanos exits the city. Between the two gates, just inside the city wall, was the Pompeion, a structure used as the starting point of the Panathenaic procession.

But before - long before - the gates or the wall, the ancient Athenians used the banks of the Eridanos as a burial ground. Single burials have been excavated from as early as the 3rd millennium BC, and from about 1200BC this area seems to have played host to an organised cemetary. We have hundreds of cist graves dating between 1200 and 600 BC. In the Archaic period, he graves were concentrated on the south side of the Eridanos. Ever-increasing grave mounds and ornaments of kouroi and korai resulted in the comparatively huge grave statue, the Dipylon Kouros, now in the NAM. During the Classical period, kouroi went out of fashion, replaced by marble relief stelai. After the Persian destruction of 480, the sculpture was built into the city wall. Two grave mounds covering graves of that time are still visible, the South Hill, which was a state grave for ambassadors of the Peisistratid area, and the burial mound opposite, which probably housed a noble family.

Somewhere in the immediate vicinity, the Classical grave for the most honoured dead - those who had died in battle - were buried at state expense, the Demosion Sema described by Thucydides. This was where Perikles' famous funeral oration was given, but we don't know the exact location. The only mass grave for war dead in Athens that we have is the grave of the Lakedaimonians who died in 403, at the last gasp of the oligarchy.

The richest graves here date from before the late 4th century BC. At this point Demetrius of Phaleron proposed a law against overly-luxurious grave monuments as part of a set of sumptuary laws relating to mourning.

Are you bored yet? A couple more things before I set you loose to look around the site on your own for fifteen minutes. I figure you'll see more on your own than you will if I drone on at you: fifteen minutes precisely, after which we're going to spend fifteen minutes in the museum, and come back to me if you have questions.

Don't run off just yet. Now, the Pompeion. In the Classical period, it consisted of a large courtyard surrounded by columns and some dining rooms in which the festival sacrificial meat for the Panathenaia was eaten by the great and good, the kalos k'agathos, of Athens. The courtyard was adorned with statues and paintings, and the dining rooms with pebble mosaics. The great unwashed masses, who also got to attend at the feast of meat from a hekatomb sacrifice, received meat in the Kerameikos and probably ate in the Dipylon courtyeard. Bones found in excavations of the wall support this.

In 86BC, Sulla's sack of Athens seriously damaged this area. The south wall of the Sacred Gate was breached and pulled dwn, and the Pompeion was destroyed. Plutarch says, "The slaughter in the Agora alone overflowed the area up to the Dipylon with blood, and much blood flowed through the gates into the outer city."

A two-storeyed storehouse with three aisles was built in the area of the Pompeion in the 2nd century CE. Later, after the Herulian invasion in 267, it was destroyed. Potters settled in this area until c.500CE. When the Slavic invasions of the 6th century took place, the Kerameikos was filled in and disappeared under the earth. In the Byzantine period, the church of Agioi Asomatoi was built adjacent: if you go look on your own bat tonight, you'll see how far it is below the modern street level. Well, you can see for yourselves we're below the modern street right now.

Right. Now bugger off and go look at graves. Meet back in front of the museum in fifteen minutes precisely. Don't get lost, don't fall in the Eridanos, and don't step on any tortoises.

We will continue this series later.


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