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The Excavations at 35 Salaminos Street "Fallen Heroes"
February 16, 2000
by Charis Stoupa

During January-July 1997, excavations brought to light four ancient rectangular cuttings that contained the remains of a complex of four or five poros subterranean funerary structures, with a particularly narrow longitudinal plan and isodomic walls, two courses high, skillfully built with monumental blocks. The structures, covered with slabs, were set on a slab pavement.

The close proximity of the plot to the ancient road leading from the Dipylon Gate to the Academy, the retaining wall of which has been discovered in the neighboring plot, places it within the boundaries of the Dêmosion Sêma, the state cemetery of Athens, which had developed on either side of the road. According to Pausanias it included the tombs of the founders of the Athenian democracy, those of certain orators, philosophers, as well as generals and a particularly large number of polyandreia (communal tombs) of those fallen in battle, so that the Dêmosion Sêma had the appearance of a war cemetery. Until now, though many sections of the road had been located, none of its important monuments for Athenian casualties had been discovered. The location of these structures within the Dêmosion Sêma, their subterranean character, their morphological affinities to the theke-type tombs, and the fact that both their plan and their whole construction bear no resemblance to any other type of building, suggest that they must have been funerary monuments.

The quantity of the extant pottery (especially red-figured pots and white-ground lekythoi, with battle and funerary scenes) and the great number of burnt bones from skeletons of well-built men, confirm the identification of these funerary structures as polyandreia. Unburnt pottery offerings, suggesting they were made after the burning of the bodies, may thus indicate the transfer of the bones from far away battlefields. At the same time, the division of the excavated part of the first monument into at least two areas, might be related to the custom of the burial by tribes, as Thucydides reports, describing the burial of the first casualties of the Peloponnesian War. Finally, the pottery evidence from the undisturbed layers, votive offerings of the in situ layer of bones and sherds in the deposits between the walls of the monuments and the sides of the cutting, dates the whole complex between 430 and 420 B.C., that is the first decade of the Peloponnesian War, known as the Archidamian War.

Whether the various structures form an organic whole, or represent distinct monuments will be clarified by further investigations in the area, as soon as the expropriation of the neighboring plots is accomplished.

Charis Stoupa, Third Ephoreia of Antiquities, Athens

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© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America