A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Soldiers' burials offer clues to the rise of Classical Greek city-states
Soldiers' bones in urns--evidence of a forgotten battle fought around 730 B.C. Did these men perish on their island home of Paros, at the center of the Aegean Sea, or in some distant land? The loss of so many, at least 120 men, was certainly a catastrophe for the community, but their families and compatriots honored them, putting their cremated remains into large vases, two of which were decorated with scenes of mourning and war. Grief-stricken relatives then carried the urns to the cemetery in Paroikia, the island's chief city, and placed them in two monumental tombs.
Excavation of the ancient cemetery began after its discovery during construction of a cultural center in the mid-1980s. It proved to be a veritable guidebook to changing funeral practices, yielding seventh- and sixth-century B.C. burials in large jars, fifth-century marble urns and grave stelae, and Hellenistic and Roman marble sarcophagi on elaborate pedestals. But the two collective burials of soldiers from the late eighth century are the most important of the finds--as the earliest such burials ever found in Greece, their very existence offers evidence for the development of city-states at this time.
Foteini Zafeiropoulou is ephor emerita of antiquities in the Greek Archaeological Service. Anagnostis Agelarakis is a professor of physical anthropology at Adelphi University; the translations of Archilochus' poems in this article are by the latter. Agelarakis wishes to thank Dr. Zafeiropoulou, the Greek Archaeological Service, the personnel of the Paros archaeological museum, and the team of Adelphi students for their sensitivity and respect to the antiquities, and their commitment to science.