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7 th International Colloquium of Funerary Archaeology

Al 7-lea Colocviu internaţional de arheologie funerară

Topic : “The society of the living – the community of the dead” (from Neolithic to the Christian era)

Tema: „Societatea celor vii”- „comunitatea celor care dorm” (din neolitic la epoca creştină)

Sibiu 6-9 october / octombrie 2005

Antikythera: An Early Hellenistic Cemetery of a Pirate’s Lair

Tina Martis, Michalis Zoitopoulos, Aris Tsaravopoulos (Athens – Greece)

Excavations in the island of Antikythera (in the western part of the Aegean, SE of the Peloponnese and Kythera, NW of Crete) have taken place over the last six years by the 26th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. At the site of Xeropotamos (in the SW part of the island) stand the remains of an impressive acropolis (fortified by two rows of walls, inner and outer, in the isodomic style which encircle the plateau of the acropolis) and trials there have revealed, so far, traces of a pirate’s community and a destruction layer of the western outer wall in the first half of the 3rd century B.C. The 3rd century B.C. is also the time that the settlement in the acropolis (it is more like a fortified pirate’s camp actually) reached its peak to be destroyed by the Romans at 67 B.C who managed to suppress piracy in the Mediterranean world in the 1st century B.C. It seems that the acropolis settlement was under the command of Phalasarna (a pirate harbor town of western Crete) at least in the 3rd century B.C. according to the finds (coins of Phalasarna, amygdaloidal inscribed sling bullets) and the inhabitants were active at the time of Cretan piracy in the Aegean.
The Cemetery lies on a gentle slope at about 300m, SE of the acropolis in rocky terrain with wild vegetation and little soil. The fortification provides a boundary between the settlement and cemetery (or between the living and the dead), thereby securing the purity of the town. The cemetery of Antikythera is not organized, does not have an enclosure and is not on the edge of an ancient road leading to acropolis. The graves lack a common orientation. Their orientation is dictated by the morphology of the ground (as in the case of many other Hellenistic cemeteries as Samos, Veroia, Thera and Phalasarna). The modern name of the area is mnemata (the Greek word for cemetery) so is not surprising that most of the tombs are plundered (it is possible, in some cases that they were plundered in antiquity). So far 21 graves have been identified (10 excavated and 8 of them plundered) which can be classified by their architecture into three types: rock-cut graves (11) that take advantage of natural cavities, shafts cut in the rock (7) with a ledge for the cover slabs and tefrodochoi (2) small rectangular hollow cuts in the rock with a round hole in the middle to receive the ashes of the dead. Human bones are scarce and badly preserved due to the soil conditions and particularly to the opening of the graves. The finds come from two graves that had already been opened but not completely looted. Six unguentaria of the first quarter of the 3rd century B.C. together with a black-glazed lamp of Type 25A of the Athenian Agora (325-275 B.C.) inscribed on its nozzle with –ΔΩ- (probably the first two letters of the owner’s name) came to light in 2003 while a kantharos dated to 270-250 B.C. and manufactured at Korone in the Peloponnese came to light last year.
Due to the small number of grave gifts recovered so far, we are not yet able to distinguish different periods of use in the cemetery nor if the graves were used for multiple burials. We do know that the periods of use covered at least the late 4th to mid-3rd centuries B.C. The customs so far identified conform more or less to those known elsewhere but with significant local variations due to the terrain and the character of the community. It may be that less attention was given to the dead in a piratical community where death was no stranger. Further investigation of the tombs should allow the local customs to be defined more clearly.


International Union for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences


The 30th comission

"Lucian Blaga" University Sibiu

Research Centre:

„BRUKENTHAL” National Museum


History Museum (MNBS)

Directia judeţeană pentru Cultură, Culte şi Patrimoniul Cultural Naţional Sibiu



For further information, please contact:

Prof.univ.dr. Sabin Adrian Luca: E - mail: sabinadrianluca@hotmail.com

Dr. Valeriu SIRBU: E - mail: valeriu_sirbu@yahoo.co.uk