Archaeologists Speculate Shackled Skeletons Were Slain Comrades of Greek Coup Leader Cylon
Archaeologists are speculating that 36 skeletons bound in irons and buried ignominiously in a mass grave were comrades of Cylon, who tried but failed to become the tyrant of Athens in a 632 BC coup.
The mass grave dates to between 650 and 625 BC, according to the style of two small vases found among the 80 skeletons in the grave in a large, ancient cemetery near Athens.
The Greek culture ministry called the time “a period of great political turmoil in the region.”
Cylon was a nobleman and Olympic champion who consulted the oracle at Delphi, who he thought had told him to seize the Acropolis of Athens in 632 BC. As the ancient Greek historian Thucydides wrote:
In the days of old there was an Athenian named Cylon, who had been an Olympic victor; he was powerful and of noble birth; and he had married the daughter of Theagenes, a Megarian who was at that time tyrant of Megara. In answer to an enquiry which Cylon made at Delphi, the God told him to seize the Acropolis of Athens at the greatest festival of Zeus. Thereupon he obtained forces from Theagenes, and, persuading his friends to join him, when the time of the Olympic festival in Peloponnesus came round, he took possession of the Acropolis, intending to make himself tyrant. He thought that this was the greatest festival of Zeus, and, having been an Olympic victor, he seemed to have a special interest in it. But whether the greatest festival spoken of was in Attica or in some other part of Hellas was a question which never entered into his mind, and the oracle said nothing about it.
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Discobolus in National Roman Museum Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. (CC BY SA 4.0) This statue represents an ancient Olympic discus thrower.
The Athenians opposed Cylon’s attempt to rule, and a group led by the nine Archons besieged them in the Acropolis. Thucydides wrote:
When the Athenians, to whose charge the guard had been committed, saw them dying in the temple, they bade them rise, promising to do them no harm, and then led them away and put them to death. They even slew some of them in the very presence of the awful Goddesses at whose altars, in passing by, they had sought refuge. The murderers and their descendants are held to be accursed, and offenders against the Goddess.
The teeth of the men buried in the mass grave were in good condition, which indicates they were young and healthy, says an article about the speculations on Discovery.com.
More of the shackled skeletons. (Cultural Ministry of Athens)
The bodies are in a huge cemetery of the common people found near Athens, that is being excavated by archaeologists. Ancient Origins reported in March 2016 that they’ve found some fascinating phenomena of the ancient world contained within—including “gifts from the living to the dead.”
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The researchers, working with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, are carefully digging and analyzing remains from the cemetery, which dates from the 8th to the 5th centuries BC in the city of Phaleron in the Faliron Delta region. So far they’ve excavated about 1,500 individuals, including the shackled skeletons, and 358 babies and toddlers who were buried in jars.
The archaeologists said the burials were mostly of people from small villages and settlements in the Faliron Delta and perhaps as far away as the rock of the Acropolis, which is about 4 miles (6.5 km) from the cemetery.
One of the skeletons found in the cemetery. (Greek Ministry of Culture)
The site was excavated about a century ago, when some of the shackled remains were unearthed. But it wasn’t until 2012 that archaeologists went about systematically and scientifically studying the site. The Niarchos cultural center built a sophisticated archaeological village with technical facilities for the 78 researchers and laborers.
Analysis of the bones of the people buried in Phaleron show that the majority suffered stress, especially to the upper limbs and spine—evidence of hard labor and therefore a lower social status.
Further evidence of their humble station was that many of the people, both children and adults, apparently also suffered from chronic malnutrition and had vitamin deficiencies and anemia.
Featured Image: Some of the shackled skeletons found in a mass grave near Athens, Greece. Source: Greek Culture Ministry
By Mark Miller