February 3, 2023

Athens News

News in English from Greece

An exhibition will be made from an ancient Greek mass grave

On June 22, Greek officials signed an agreement approving a $ 4.8 million donation to showcase the results of the 2016 necropolis opening, which was made as part of the construction of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC).

The agreement was signed by Minister of Finance Christos Staikuras, Deputy Minister of Finance Apostolosis Vesiropoulos and Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni. The donation will fund exhibition space for an ancient Greek necropolis discovered in the Delta Falirou area.

The exhibition space will be designed by Renzo Piano, an Italian architect who created Niarchos Cultural Centeras well as the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris, The Shard in London and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

The donation agreement includes $ 4.8 million in funding for research, construction, and equipment for an exhibition building called Polyandri Shell.

Polyandri Shell Exhibition Complex will continuously protect and display 80 skeletons discovered in 2016 in a mass grave in an ancient Greek cemetery south of Athens.

The Necropolis of Desmotes Discovered During Construction of the SNFCC

Mass burial of the 7th century BC e. It was found at the ancient Faliro Delta cemetery in the suburbs of Athens during the construction of the SNFCC. Scientists believe that evidence has been found of the so-called “Kylon Filth” – a brutal reprisal against the participants in the rebellion raised by the Athenian Kylon, who was trying to seize power in the city.

Broken skulls, skeletons with unnaturally twisted limbs, remains of horses lie in endless rows on tables and shelves …

The first burials of Faliron date back to the middle of the 8th century BC. e., the last – by 480 BC. Kylon’s turmoil, “draconian laws”, Solon’s reforms, the tyrant Pisistratus, the first “democrat” Cleisthenes and the invention of ostracism – all these names, phenomena and events coincide chronologically with the period of use of the Faliron cemetery. It was a troubled and cruel time, extremely intriguing for historians.

Since 2016, the main attention of researchers has been focused on the find, “unparalleled in Greek archeology” in the words of Stella Chrysulaki. This is a mass grave of 79 men – young, well-fed and not engaged in hard physical labor.

Their remains lay in three rows in a huge grave. The hands of all men are bound with iron shackles. All of them died from a blow to the head with a heavy object and were thrown into the grave without observing any rituals: some lie on their backs, others on their stomachs, 52 have their hands shackled over their heads, and the rest do whatever they have to.

Faliron necropolis. Mass grave of 80 men, alleged victims of the Kylon Troubles, general view. Photo: Giannis Asvestas

According to Stella Chrysulaki, they are all victims of a political execution that took place between 675 and 650 BC, judging by the dating of the fragments of pottery found in the burial. We talked in great detail about this unique discovery and other unusual finds in the material “Faliron’s deviant burials will be studied by specialists with the skills of forensic experts.”
Let us quote ourselves: “Not every day scientists find material confirmation of the events of 2,700 years ago, described in ancient Greek literature. In this case, we are talking about the Kylonian Troubles – an unsuccessful attempt at a political coup in Athens, undertaken by the noble Athenian Kylon [к слову, олимпийским чемпионом] and his associates. This event had lasting consequences and, ultimately, led to the establishment of democracy in Athens. Which, in turn, determined the development paths of the entire Western civilization. “

In the 30s of the 7th century, a young, noble and wealthy Athenian named Kylon, the son-in-law of the Megarian tyrant Theagen, makes an attempt to seize power in Athens. With the help of friends and the squad given to him by his father-in-law, on the anniversary of his victory at the Olympic Games, he seizes the acropolis. But the population of Attica rose up against him – all without exception, both townspeople and villagers … and Kylon with its adherents was besieged. The siege dragged on. Most of the besiegers dispersed, leaving the archons to end the rebellion. Kylon and his brother managed to escape. His adherents, who were threatened with death from hunger and thirst, surrendered, relying on the promise that they would be spared. But the promise was broken, and the supporters of Keelon were severely beaten, some of them perishing at the very altars of the gods.

V.P. Buzeskul. History of Athenian Democracy, 1909.

Who exactly lies in the giant grave is to be found out by criminologists from archeology. For after the Kylonian Troubles, the Kylonian filth fell on Athens – the sin of murder at the altars of the gods. The proceedings and consequences dragged on for many years. These 79 executed men can be both victims of this process, and his contemporaries, killed for another reason.

During the suppression of the Kylonian uprising, sacrilege was committed – blood was shed at a sacred place, at the altar of Eumenides, and the people await heavenly punishment for the desecration of shrines and altars. The blame for what happened fell mainly on the archons, especially on the then first archon Megakl from the family of the Alcmeonids, who led the suppression of the Kylonian uprising. Finally, after a long interval, when many of the participants in this sacrilegious case had already gone to the grave, a trial of the blasphemers took place, and the judges were 300 “best men.” According to their verdict, the corpses of the culprits were thrown out of the graves, and their family was devoted to eternal exile. ”

V.P. Buzeskul. History of Athenian Democracy, 1909

Genetic, isotope, radiocarbon and other studies will help to find out the age of the executed, to establish possible family ties, origin, health status and even social status during life. But, since the case does not take place on the TV screen, and death came too long ago, archeocriminalists do not promise a quick solution: the first results will be announced, perhaps in 5-7 years.

So far, scientists have been able to transport only one skeleton to the laboratory, with its hands severely twisted behind its back (see the title photo). “It could be a prisoner of war, a criminal or a fugitive slave,” says bioarchaeologist Eleanna Prevedere.

Bioarchaeologist Eleanna Prevedere with one of the Faliron skeletons. Photo: Aris Messinis / AFP

In another, smaller-scale burial, the remains of supposedly warriors of the Keelonian army were found. They will also be carefully studied. As, indeed, all the remains found in Faliron, all 1500 people (as well as horses and other animals buried there).

Each skeleton, each grave will tell its own story. Scientists are no less interested in ordinary burials and those who died from natural causes than remains with a historical context; mass graves of children intrigue specialists no less than the graves of criminals and victims of political repression.

The recorded history of Athens and Ancient Greece “reflects the deeds of the elite and the victors. But trying to understand the past relying only on this evidence is like trying to understand the life of the modern world by reading only newspapers, ”said Panagiotis Karkanas.

Kylon was a noble and wealthy Athenian. In addition, at the Olympic Games in 640 BC, he won the race in two stages. The Olympic winners were considered to be especially noted by the grace of the gods, and their fame and influence in their hometown of all was great. Kylon married the daughter of Theagen, the tyrant of the city of Megara, which is located northwest of Athens. The support of his father-in-law further strengthened the position of Kylon, and he decided to take a desperate step – to raise a rebellion in Athens in order to seize sole power in the city, to become the tyrant of Athens. Kylon had many friends and supporters, Theagen promised to send soldiers to help him, in Athens there were many poor people dissatisfied with the life, whose support was easy to get. But Keelon still hesitated.

In the end, he decided to turn to the oracle of Apollo in Delphi with the question whether he should try to seize power in his hometown. In response, as the historian Thucydides tells, “God uttered a prophecy: at the greatest feast of Zeus, Kylon must seize the Athenian acropolis” (translated here and hereinafter by GA Stratanovsky). Keelon considered that the greatest holiday of Zeus is the days of the Olympic Games, dedicated to Olympian Zeus. And so in 632 BC. e. he, with his followers and with the detachment that Theagen sent him, captured the acropolis.

But the inhabitants of Athens, even the poor people oppressed by the nobility, did not support Kylon. The oracle’s prophecies are often deceiving. Indeed, as the same Thucydides notes, Kylon could have chosen the wrong holiday of Zeus. For example, for Attica, the festival of Diasia, also dedicated to Zeus, was of great importance.

Further, according to the story of Thucydides, the following happened: “As soon as the city learned about this event, the inhabitants fled in droves from the fields and, having settled down in front of the acropolis, besieged Cylon with its followers.” As time passed, the besieged began to suffer from hunger and thirst, but did not want to surrender. “Keelon and his brother managed to escape. The rest, already dying, sat down at the altar of the goddess, as if begging for protection. ” The people who were at the altar could not be killed, it would be a sacrilege, offending Pallas Athena. For the same reason, it was impossible to simply wait for them to starve to death.

During the negotiations, Archon Megacles convinced the besieged to leave the acropolis and come to the court of the Areopagus. Plutarch reports that the supporters of Kylon were still afraid of reprisals, so they tied a long rope to the altar of Athena and moved to the Areopagus, holding on to it with their hands. From the Areopagus to the Propylae, the entrance to the Acropolis, even along the winding paths, hardly more than 250 meters, if you count from the Parthenon, they had to walk only about 400 meters, but they did not manage to get there safely. According to Plutarch, the rope broke unexpectedly. Many believe that she was deliberately chopped off with a sword. Perhaps Megacle did it personally. At least, it was he who exclaimed that the goddess rejects the plea of ​​the besieged, and ordered to seize them. The unfortunate were thrown with stones and stabbed to death with swords. They even killed those who managed to take refuge in the sacred grove of Eumenides, located next to the Areopagus.

Thus ended the Kylon rebellion and the Kylonian corruption. The word “filth” is translated from the Greek μίασμα, meaning the sin that lies on the blasphemers and murderers. First of all, the curse concerned the criminals themselves, then it covered their relatives, and then all the inhabitants of the city, where the blasphemous murderer was committed.

There were many signs that Athena was angry. Ominous omens, epidemics, defeats in the war with the Megarians, the loss of the island of Salamis … The people who took part in the massacre of the supporters of Keelon began to be called the damned. In 596, the Athenians judged those affected by the Kylonian filth. These were mainly representatives of the noble family of Alcmeonids, to which Megakl and other archons who led the massacre belonged. The living were decided to be expelled from Athens, and the remains of the dead were to be dug up and thrown out of Attica.

Then the expulsion of the Alcmeonids was repeated in Athens twice more, all on the same accusation of Kylon’s corruption. The accusation of long-standing sacrilege became a way of political struggle between powerful clans. When, under Pericles, the confrontation between Athens and Sparta had not yet resulted in an open war, the Spartans demanded that the Athenians expel Pericles, believing that this would weaken the competitors. The pretext was the same, because the mother of Pericles Agariste belonged to the Aklemeonid family (the Athenians met the requirements to expel those involved in another sacrilege crime from Sparta). Paradoxically, if the Kylonian rebellion itself was a minor episode and did not have much impact on Athenian history, then the accusations of Kylonian corruption became an important factor in the political life of Athens for almost two hundred years.

There is no unequivocal confirmation that people buried in mass graves in Paleo Faliro died during the Kylon rebellion. Found next to the bones, two small vases date back to 675 – 650 years, which is close to the date of the mutiny, but still a little earlier. But archaeologists hope they will be able to establish the truth.

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