2005 Archaeological report
For the second consecutive year, a topographical survey was undertaken on several fortified sites in the Chora of Eretria.
Agios Nikolaos (Styra)
A topographical survey was carried out by the Swiss School in the summer of 2004. Activities of illegal excavations were noticed and denounced to the 11 EPCA, which planned a small excavation to diagnose the scale of the damage. A joint Gr-Swiss diagnostic-excavation was conducted in April 2005, under the direction of M. Chidiroglou and Sylvian Fachard. The present report includes the results of the survey and excavation.
Near the summit of Mt Kliosi (682m asl) and S-E from the modern village of Styra stands a Cl fortress, known since the 19th Ct AD, but never thoroughly studied or drawn. The slopes of the mountain are known for its ancient remains, mainly the Drakospita at Palli Lakka and the Rom cipollino quarries. The fortress is composed of two curtain-walls running E-W between two limestone peaks; each side is protected by a small projecting tower. The fortified perimeter (310m) encloses an area of ca 0.35ha. An impressive gate, made of cipollino marble blocks, is preserved to a h. of 3.5m. The masonry is irregular trapezoidal with use of triangular chinking stones. A stone plan and the main conserved elevations were drawn. Two trenches perpendicular to the S wall revealed that the natural rock was carved and flattened to support the foundations. Filling from the foundation trench revealed a fragment of a black-glazed skyphos dating to the E 4th Ct BC. Pottery from trench 2 is attributed to the same period, which can be used as a tpq for the construction of the fortress. Destruction layers include much stone-cutting debris and Byz-Med pottery. They suggest that the blocks of the facings and the stone filling of the wall were reused elsewhere, probably for the construction of the Med fortress situated E. In trench 3, located at the gate, the walking levels have been carried away by erosion. Trench 4 was excavated in order to investigate an intra-muros building in order to learn more about its dating and function (barracks?). Anc. pottery and tiles were found, but could not be securely attributed to any of the structures.
Enjoying a panoramic view over the whole region as well as Attica, the fortress was situated at a strategic location controlling the Eretrian southern border and the main anc. track to Karystos. It was probably built by the Eretrian State after the annexation of Styra, which took place ca 400.
Intensive survey was carried over the whole hill-top E of the fortress. The main Med structures (church, buildings, houses, cistern and fortification wall) were added to the schematic plan. The name of the site is preserved on Venetian maps and known as Armena or Larmena. Byz, Med pottery and an Ot coin were collected.
The main discovery was the existence of a great concentration of Cl black-glazed and Hel pottery from an artificially flattened rocky plateau. Stone-wall foundations and rock cuttings are visible. Rp and bp tiles were discovered, the oldest dating to the 5th Ct BC, as well as a fragment of inscription. The high quality of the finds from this supposed bothros is striking in such a remote and mountainous area. Stone blocks with a broached décor belonging to an anc building were reused in the Church and the Venitian walls. The existence of a small mountain-top sanctuary is not to be excluded. Based on Mountain-Cults in Greece, Zeus would be a good candidate. This hypothesis is supported by two late inscriptions found in Styra and on the western slopes of Mt Kliosi (IG XII, 9, 58 and 59), mentioning Zeus Hypsistos. A sounding in the bothros revealed that the accumulation of pottery resulted from a single deposit. A clean-up of the rocky plateau took place at a L date. Material was dumped over the N slope, thus creating a bothros. This event might be contemporary with the construction of a neighboring rectangular Med building. Among the finds are fragments of a 5th Ct BC rf krater, 4th Ct BC bp bowls, bp tiles, parts of beehive walls, fragments of Rom coarse ware, as well as Byz pottery. The study of the material should help us define more precisely the type of activities that took place at the summit.
The fortified site of Vrysi (La Cuppa, Dragonara) stands on a rocky promontory at the S-E end of the Mavrovouni range (ancient Mt Kotylaion?), overlooking a fertile plain at the end of the Manikia gorges. A stone plan of the Cl walls was drawn for the first time, while the Byz and Med walls were reported on a schematic plan.
An intensive survey revealed a broken line of walls defending an area of 4 ha. An important part of the site is naturally defended by high cliffs, which were never walled. The 2a-2b curtains are the best preserved, each of them including a postern secured by a small bastion. The masonry (irregular trapezoidal, with polygonal blocks and chinking stones) could date to the 4th Ct BC. This section seems to be an extension of the primitive circuit: it was probably built in order to include a natural spring inside the walls. The lack of anc. pottery is striking, and suggests that no Cl-Hel settlement existed intra muros. Yet, archaeological and epigraphic evidence tends to show that a settlement did exist in the area, probably the deme-center of Kotylaion. On the basis of our survey, it should not be localized inside the walls of Vrysi. Since the fortified area exceeds the needs of a simple fortress, the walls were probably intended to offer a protected space of large expanse: a fortified acropolis capable of accommodating in troubled times the population of the surroundings demes, their flocks and crops. This strategically important site is close to the border; it watches over the gorges, an anc. track leading to Chalcis, and among the richest land of the Eretriad.
The fortress's strategic role was increased by the adjunction of a second fortified circuit some 300m W, at Kastri. There, the mountain ridge is delimited by vertiginous cliffs at the N and S. A 24m long curtain wall -- ended by a 9.8 x 7m tower -- stretches between the two cliffs. Defense is useless to the S, but a curtain wall of 100m long was built to the N. A postern 0.9m wide is found near the tower, which was accessible by a staircase 9m long. Walls are ca 2.65m wide. Masonry is trapezoidal to polygonal, with chinking stones; corners (tower and postern) are drafted. The work is quite similar to that of Vrysi (posterns 2a and 2b), so a contemporary date for both is very likely. A Med tower was added to the S, and new walls were built over the Cl plinth using stone, brick and mortar. No anc. shard was discovered inside the fortress. This stronghold supplements the defense of Vrysi, by preventing an attacker from occupying the elevated plateau of Kastri and dominating its defenders. The military fortress could have also served as a garrison for ephebes, a base for patrolling the mountainous borders, as well as a last place of refuge for civilians.
The Sarakinokastro mountain (509m asl) is located opposite the walls of Kastri and Vrysi (1.3km), closing the gorges of Manikia to the S. A rubble enceinte is situated at the summit. It is the largest known in the territory of Eretria: 162 x 85m, for a total area of 9'700m2. Although its mediocre state of conservation, a double facing wall with interior packing/filing can still be made out; its w. averages between 2.2 and 3m. Heavy vegetation makes survey of the internal area difficult to complete. No internal structure has been reported. A stone mill, coarse ware pottery, and a Byz shard were among the surface finds. Without a trench, this site will remain impossible to date. The view is impressive, as it dominates the region, a part of the border between Chalcis and Eretria, the bay of Aliveri and the great plain between Avlonari and Oxylithos. The importance of this fortified ensemble can be explained by its position: situated near the border and dominating two important communication routes, it may have played a role as a military fort, and/or a place of refuge in more recent times.
Remains of fortifications were known at Loupaka (west shore of Lake Dystos) since the 19th Ct AD. The site occupies a rocky overhang controlling a narrow pass between the lake and the mountains. W of the ridge, a long wall can be followed for 100m, turns E and joins a rocky pick. No wall has been found further S, so that the layout remains open, without encircling the hill. The structure is composed of a retaining wall and an internal fill, forming a terrace 4m to 6m wide. The masonry is made of massive blocks wedged by small stones. Some elevations are conserved to a h. of 4m. Both the monumental size of the blocks and the masonry style remind "cyclopean" fortifications. Surface finds are poor: obsidian flakes and a few shards of no clear conclusive date.
The rocky surface of the hill is uninhabitable, except for a small rock-cut terrace at the top. The hypothesis of a civilian settlement must be rejected. This imposing structure seems to be of military conception, functioning as a "long-wall" built to watch over -- or block -- the passageway on the west shore of lake Dystos. An old track was discovered at the feet of the N wall. The Loupaka fortification could be linked with a communication route, as its "open" disposition seems to aim at blocking the pass rather than encircling a settlement or a hill-top. Further S., a Cl and Hel site occupied the Loupaka saddle (80m asl). The construction of an electricity pylon has destroyed any surface remains, but a concentration of bg pottery and black-/red-glazed tiles indicates a lasting occupation, a farm or a small settlement. These remains could also suggest that the Loupaka wall was reoccupied during these periods. A date for the wall must be secured in the future. If an LH date can be shown, Loupaka would become the first Myc military wall in Euboea.