A survey project carried out in cooperation with the Ephorate for Antiquities in Achaia pursues the goal of recording the structure of the city of Aigeira in greater detail. Whereas, until recently, research concentrated primarily on individual public and religious buildings, very little is known about the organisation and the daily life of the city, which during the Hellenistic-Roman period covered an area of nearly 50 ha. The survey project aims to close this gap. In a new diachronic study, the post-Mycenaean fortification wall will be investigated, with particular attention paid to its chronology, its extent and the connection between architecture and landscape.

Physiographic Preconditions

As one of the few sites in the coastal region of east Achaia, Aigeira offered physical geographic conditions that enabled a long-term settlement. The stable ground consisting of solid rock was an important prerequisite for settlement activity in this region, which was strongly affected by earthquakes. In addition, the location high above the sea allowed excellent visibility and, therefore, the possibility of controlling the coastal and inland routes. All of these advantages apparently offset the disadvantages of the steep terrain and the difficulty of supplying fresh water, as evidenced by the identifiable settlement activity at the site covering the time period from the 6th millennium B.C. until the Mediaeval era. 

Objectives

The survey examines the organisation of the ancient city, covering numerous epochs. A central question for the understanding of the city development is how the Archaic-Classical settlement was structured in comparison to the newly founded Hellenistic ›lower city‹. Although until now very little is known about the early city, it appears that the Hellenistic ›lower city‹ was perhaps laid out according to a coherent plan. The ancient remains on the surface, still visible today and oriented towards the cardinal points, support this theory. Purposeful surface inspection and geophysical investigations should provide further information regarding the building density, the network of streets and pathways, as well as the location of the domestic areas, trade quarters and public spaces.

An important foundation for the design of the urban survey is the evaluation of historic plans and aerial photographs. A comparison with modern topographic documentation reveals that although the land division has altered only insignificantly over the last 50 years, in contrast to the 1950s and 1960s, however, tree plantations, above all olive trees, dominate today. Since these plantations are hardly ever ploughed, only comparatively few surface finds are to be expected at these locations.

First Results

The survey has yielded early results from a notably flat area ca. 150 × 60 m in size, a space that has always been associated with a plaza and that was probably the central agora of the ancient city. Here, at the end of the 19th century the Greek archaeologist Valerios Stais discovered parts of the Diocletianic Price Edict that was valid throughout the Roman empire. Furthermore, on the surface and in geophysical recordings, the remains of a large rectangular structure – probably a building in the form of a naiskos or a large peristyle structure – as well as a presumably late Roman building containing spolia can be clearly identified. The surface finds, which include Doric and Ionic architectural elements, column drums, fragments of lion's head water spouts as well as Hellenistic and Roman fine pottery, support the assumption that this area was a public rather than a private space.

Outlook

In future campaigns the survey will concentrate on the northern and western parts of the Hellenistic ›lower city‹, an area which is still referred to by the local population with the toponym »Spitia« (houses). In 1925 Otto Walter already suspected that the domestic quarter of the ancient city was located here, due to the numerous remains of walls visible on the surface.

The City Walls of Aigeira

The extremely long settlement activity at Aigeira, extending from the Late Neolithic period until the modern era, offers favourable preconditions to investigate the fortification system of the city in a diachronic study. Aigeira is provided with four fortification systems that date from the Mycenaean period until Late Antiquity or the post-antique era. The focus of the project lies on the fortifications of the post-Mycenaean period,  whereas the Mycenaean city walls walls are the subject of research by W. Gauß. The conditions for the study are very advantageous, since Aigeira not only counts amongst the best-preserved poleis of Achaia but also exhibits one of the longest settlement continuities in the region.

City layout

Aigeira's southern area is dominated by a double acropolis in the south, with steep cliffs at its eastern and western sides. The cliffs frame a gently declining, terraced slope. A narrow isthmus in the south connects the city with its hinterland and makes it difficult to capture, yet easy to defend. A series of small forts and towers, which were recently first identified in the context of the »Aigialeia Survey Project« of the Italian School in Athens, probably played an important role in the defence and control of the routes of communication.

Fortification installations

The Archaic fortification encloses an area of ca. 3.5 ha around the region of the acropolis and the upper city, but until now it has only been documented in a few locations.

The larger circuit of walls, enclosing ca. 50 ha of settlement area, must have been laid out in the late Classical/early Hellenistic era. Particularly surprising is the fact that only the late Classical/Hellenistic fortification was equipped with a very few towers. Although this is not unusual, nevertheless it needs to be re-evaluated against the background of the topography and the historical context. The Achaian League might possibly have played a role in the design of the fortifications; Aigeira had belonged to the League since the 5th century, and then again since the early 3rd century B.C. It is also conceivable that the increase in settlement size was due to the influx of inhabitants from Aigai, who relocated to Aigeira around the mid-4th century B.C. due to the poor living conditions in their home city (Paus. 7, 25, 12; 8, 15, 9). This wall circuit was apparently not altered after the Hellenistic period.

The most recent fortification in any event did not take older defensive installations into consideration: it encircled the western acropolis hill, which was an important settlement area from the Mycenaean to the Classical period. The purpose and date of this fortification are not yet completely clear; after an initial review of the find material from older excavations, it ought to be a Late Antique hill fortification.

In order to clarify the open questions, as precise a chronology as possible for the fortifications needs to be established. The form of the fortifications should be reconstructed with excavations at selected points and with the aid of architecturally-based analyses.

 

Urbanistics

Principal investigator

Cooperations

Duration

09/2019 –

Funding

OeAW-OeAI


City walls

Principal investigators

Duration

2016 –

Funding

FWF Einzelprojekt P 30886