Leontion: A short-lived polis?

Leontion was a fortified small town in the north of the Peloponnese located in the border area between Achaea and Arcadia. The architectural remains visible on the surface appear to originate largely from the early Hellenistic period suggesting a corresponding re-foundation. Since 2018, the site is being studied as part of a five-year synergasia between the Ephorate for Antiquities in Achaea (EphAch) and the OeAI (Head Office and Athens branch).

Location and History


In a paper in 1925 F. Bolte provided the convincing historical arguments for the localization of Leontion on the Kastritsi-hill located around 2.3 km north of the village Kato Vlasia (municipality of Kalavryta, Achaea). The town does not appear frequently in the literary sources: It first is mentioned by Polybius who by the late Classical period ranks the town among the twelve poleis of the Achaean League; furthermore, he mentions Leontion in connection with an Aetolian raid in 217 BCE and thus provides the crucial clue for its localization.

Although Leontion seems to have held the status of polis already in the pre-Hellenistic period, its expansion into a veritable small town does not appear to have taken place until the early Hellenist period possibly as a re-foundation by Antigonos II Gonatas. The massive fortification is striking and combined with the location at the crossroads of important overland routes suggests a military strategic interest in the location. This could also be the reason for the loss in importance of Leontion in the course of the Hellenistic period. By the imperial period  it had become a village.

Archaeological evidence


The settlement area covers the roughly L-shaped Kastritsi-hill with a size of about 4ha and is surrounded by an almost completely preserved fortification ring equipped with towers and gates. Very few ancient remains have been preserved on the rugged peak in the west. A plateau 80 x 40 m in size is located to the east below and represents the only larger flat surface within the settlement area. Here the agora might have been located; its norther edge is completely occupied by a long, multi-roomed building of hitherto unknown function and date. To the south of the agora remains of residential buildings in the form of terrace houses are discernible.

The northern part of Leontion only consists of a eastern slope which begins directly beneath the part of the fortification wall running along the small north-western ridge of the hill. It was also covered with residential terrace houses of partially considerable size that were connected by an orthogonal grid. This form of architecture ends in the northern corner of the fortification wall at a small theater partially hewn out of the rock that possibly was connected to a small shrine. The only well-preserved gate system is located to the east. It follows the type of the tangential gate and additionally exhibits several peculiarities.

Initial research


As part of her dissertation on the archaeology and topography of north-western Arcadia G. Alexopoulou dealt with Leontion in detail. This assessment was based on her own research at the site in the early 2000s and thus she laid the foundations for the current synergasia approved by the Greek Ministry for Culture and Sport in spring 2018. In the course of the first three week field season in September 2018 various remains of the settlement visible on the surface were surveyed. Workmen of the ephorate had cleaned the entire fortification wall, the area of the possible agora as well as the theater of all growth for the survey, the fly over with a drone, and a 3-D laser scan of selected points.

According to the first evaluation, the fortification wall appears to have been constructed in one phase because there are no indications of a change in the routing of the terrace or substantial repairs or modifications. Since the theater and fortification walls could not have been created independently of each other, both must date to the same period. The same must be the case for the preserved terrace houses, at least on the eastern slope, because they follow the orientation of the parodoi of the theater. Overall the preserved architectural remains give the impression that they belonged to the original layout of the small town which was later only imperceptibly changed. Therefore, they represent significant evidence in support of the early Hellenistic re-foundation and rapid decline of Leontion.

Objectives


In the future four seasons we will verify whether the first impression of the settlement just outlined is accurate. In addition to the verification of the postulated early Hellenistic date of the mentioned buildings, the question will be followed up whether remains of pre-Hellenistic Leontion can identified or whether this must be looked for in another location. Furthermore, the clarification of the post-Hellenistic type of settlement will be another focus. In order to answer these questions various survey methods will be employed as well as a systematic pottery survey and excavations will be carried out in suitable locations. Later the research will be extended to the countryside of Leontion in the form of a field survey which appears to have mainly included the valley of the Selinountas River between Kato Vlasia and Agios Andreas. In addition, the possible military character of the settlement will need to be studied in relation to the neighboring poleis of Achaea and Arcadia.