Archaeologists Explore Incredible Ancient City in Supposed Backwater Region of Greece
A collaboration between Greek, Swedish, and British researchers has resulted in some interesting discoveries at a previously unexplored 2,500-year-old city in Thessaly, Greece. Their findings are beginning to change the way archaeologists look at the region – an area which was previously believed to be “backwater during Antiquity.”
The Vlochos Archaeological Project (VLAP), which explored the site, reports that the group of researchers consists of scientists from the Ephorate of Antiquities of Karditsa (Greece), the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) and the University of Bournemouth (UK). They have just completed their first season exploring the ruins at a village called Vlochos in Thessaly, about a five-hour drive north of Athens.
The Cultural Past of Ancient Thessaly
Thessaly was one of the traditional regions of Ancient Greece. During the Mycenaean period, Thessaly was known as Aeolia, a term that continued to be used for one of the basic tribes of Greece, the Aeolians.
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At its greatest extent, ancient Thessaly was a wide area stretching from Mount Olympus (home of the Greek Gods) to the north to the Spercheios Valley to the south. It was home to extensive Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures around 6000 BC-2500 BC. Mycenaean settlements have also been found in Thessaly – for example, tablets bearing Mycenaean Greek inscriptions, written in Linear B, were found at the Kastron of Palaia Hill, in Volos.
In Greek mythology, Thessaly was the homeland of the heroes Achilles, Jason, and of course, the legendary tribe of Myrmidons. Homer's Iliad said that the Myrmidons were led by Achilles during the Trojan War. According to Greek myths, they were created by Zeus from a colony of ants and therefore took their name from the Greek word for ant, myrmex.
Thetis giving her son Achilles weapons forged by Hephaestus. Detail on an Attic black-figure hydria from 575–550 BC. (Public Domain)
An Untapped Find
The head of the team, Robin Rönnlund, told The Local that some of the remains in the area were known but had been dismissed before as part of an irrelevant little settlement on a hill. It wasn’t until Rönnlund and his colleagues began searching the location that it turned out to be way bigger in size and archaeological significance than they could have dreamed.
Aerial view showing the outline of fortress walls, towers, and city gates. (University of Gothenburg)
As Rönnlund explained to The Local,
“It feels great. I think it is [an] incredibly big [deal], because it's something thought to be a small village that turns out to be a city, with a structured network of streets and a square. A colleague and I came across the site in connection with another project last year, and we realized the great potential right away. The fact that nobody has ever explored the hill before is a mystery."
Archaeologist Johan Klange measuring the Classical-Hellenistic fortifications on the hill of Strongilovoúni. (VLAP)
Finds from 500 BC
The team discovered the ruins of towers, walls, and city gates on the summit and slopes of the hill. Additionally, during their first two weeks of field work in September, they found ancient pottery and coins, dating back to around 500 BC. After that, the city is thought to have prospered from the 4th to 3rd century BC before it was abandoned – possibly when the Romans took over the area.
Fragment of red-figure pottery discovered at the site. It is from the late 6th century BC and probably by Attic painter Paseas. (University of Gothenburg)
Rönnlund hopes that his team won’t need to excavate the site. Instead, they would prefer to use methods such as ground-penetrating radar, which will allow them to leave it in the same condition as they found it.
A second field project is planned for August next year and Rönnlund is optimistic about the future finds and results. He said:
"Very little is known about ancient cities in the region, and many researchers have previously believed that western Thessaly was somewhat of a backwater during Antiquity. Our project therefore fills an important gap in the knowledge about the area and shows that a lot remains to be discovered in the Greek soil.”
The site with the road leading up towards it. (Swedish Institute at Athens)
Top Image: The city’s acropolis is barely visible on the hill on a cloudy day. Source: University of Gothenburg