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Archaeologists discover ruins of an ancient Greek port



by Chuck Bednar

Recent excavations taking place in an ancient partially-submerged harbor town has led to the surprising discovery of well-preserved wooden caissons, as well as the revelation that the port’s entrance canal was far larger than previously believed.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have been using cutting-edge techniques to investigate the Lechaion, one of two Corinthian ports active from the 6th century BCE to the 6th century CE. The goal of their expeditions has been to discover the layout and scale of this once bustling harbor town.
As part of a research initiative known as the Lechaion Harbour Project (LHP), the research team has conducted a digital and geophysical survey of the sea-facing side of the harbor. The archaeologists have found two monumental moles (a large rock construction used as a pier, not the animal) constructed of ashlar blocks, a breakwater, and a smaller mole, as well as the wooden caissons and the inner-harbor’s stone-lined entrance canal.
“We have found and documented several monumental architectural structures, built at great expense, showing that Lechaion was developed as a grand harbor to match the importance of her powerful metropolis, Corinth,” Dr. Bjørn Lovén, a University of Copenhagen archaeologist and the co-director of the LHP, said in a statement.
First well-preserved caissons ever discovered in Greece
The caissons, Lovén and his colleagues explained, were single-mission barges build for the sole purpose of sinking to deposit building materials and form the port’s foundation. Similar methods were used by Roman engineers at the Caesarea Maritima site in Israel during the first century BCE.
The discovery marks the first time that well-preserved caissons with their wooden elements still intact have been discovered in Greece. Preliminary carbon dating indicates that they were built around the same time as Leonidas Basilica, the largest Christian church of its era. Construction on the basilica began in the middle of the fifth century.
Historically, experts believed that harbor facilities such as this site were originally constructed during the Greek and Roman period, then repaired during the Byzantine period. However, the discovery of the mole paints a different picture, as it is a rare example of major harbor work that took place during the later era, and could indicate that other such projects were underway at this time.

As for the entrance canal, the archaeologists have thus far found 180 feet (55 meters) of its sides, as well as evidence that it was likely located up to 148 feet (45 meters) farther out to sea than the modern shoreline. Lovén’s team is currently exploring how the site might have changed over the years due to changing sea levels and coastal subsidence.

Archaeologists discover ruins of an ancient Greek port



by Chuck Bednar

Recent excavations taking place in an ancient partially-submerged harbor town has led to the surprising discovery of well-preserved wooden caissons, as well as the revelation that the port’s entrance canal was far larger than previously believed.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have been using cutting-edge techniques to investigate the Lechaion, one of two Corinthian ports active from the 6th century BCE to the 6th century CE. The goal of their expeditions has been to discover the layout and scale of this once bustling harbor town.
As part of a research initiative known as the Lechaion Harbour Project (LHP), the research team has conducted a digital and geophysical survey of the sea-facing side of the harbor. The archaeologists have found two monumental moles (a large rock construction used as a pier, not the animal) constructed of ashlar blocks, a breakwater, and a smaller mole, as well as the wooden caissons and the inner-harbor’s stone-lined entrance canal.
 “We have found and documented several monumental architectural structures, built at great expense, showing that Lechaion was developed as a grand harbor to match the importance of her powerful metropolis, Corinth,” Dr. Bjørn Lovén, a University of Copenhagen archaeologist and the co-director of the LHP, said in a statement.
First well-preserved caissons ever discovered in Greece
The caissons, Lovén and his colleagues explained, were single-mission barges build for the sole purpose of sinking to deposit building materials and form the port’s foundation. Similar methods were used by Roman engineers at the Caesarea Maritima site in Israel during the first century BCE.
The discovery marks the first time that well-preserved caissons with their wooden elements still intact have been discovered in Greece. Preliminary carbon dating indicates that they were built around the same time as Leonidas Basilica, the largest Christian church of its era. Construction on the basilica began in the middle of the fifth century.
Historically, experts believed that harbor facilities such as this site were originally constructed during the Greek and Roman period, then repaired during the Byzantine period. However, the discovery of the mole paints a different picture, as it is a rare example of major harbor work that took place during the later era, and could indicate that other such projects were underway at this time.

As for the entrance canal, the archaeologists have thus far found 180 feet (55 meters) of its sides, as well as evidence that it was likely located up to 148 feet (45 meters) farther out to sea than the modern shoreline. Lovén’s team is currently exploring how the site might have changed over the years due to changing sea levels and coastal subsidence.

War is Unavoidable—and Other Hard Lessons from Homer’s Iliad


The epic tells us that the world is never going to revert to a peaceful state.
Achilles, shown here in a Roman mosaic from Zeugma in modern day Turkey, is the central character ofThe Iliad. Scholars believe his origins may lie in folklore and myth.

By Simon Worrall

PUBLISHED JANUARY 10, 2016
Homer’s Iliad—a 3,000-year-old epic poem—continues to shape how we think about war. “Every adjective evokes the destruction and tragedy of war,” says Caroline Alexander, author of The Iliad: A New Translation. Alexander, a frequent contributor to National Geographic, has made her name writing about modern-day epics like the Mutiny on the Bounty and Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. But Homer has been what the trained classicist calls “the abiding passion of my heart.” (Read Alexander’s article on how modern soldiers recover from brain injuries.)
Speaking from her home in Maine, she explains how her African students in Malawi immediately “got” The Iliad; why Hollywood would demand a rewrite of the epic; and how Homer still has much to teach us about war and the human condition. (Discover why Homer matters.)
Many people think The Iliad glorifies war and machismo. Is that fair?
It’s not so at all. In America, most people who’ve read The Iliad have read it in college in the first year of their humanities courses, as part of a survey of Western or other literature. You’re assigned a few books to read at break-neck speed and there’s this tradition that The Iliad is about war. It’s very easy to support that tradition by picking out four or five main scenes. But when one reads the entirety of the epic, it is unambiguously clear at every turn that the poem is evoking the blighting effect of this war on every single participant in it. Old men, civilians, children, captive women or wives, as well as the warriors, like Achilles—they all decry it. Every adjective evokes the destruction and tragedy of war. It’s literally a war of tears.
The action of The Iliad takes place not during the heat of battle but during a protracted stalemate. Hollywood would have demanded a rewrite, wouldn’t it?
Little is known about the Greek poet Homer, shown here in a bust that dates to about 750 B.C. Some scholars believe Homer was blind; others say he was a she. Seven towns claim to be his birthplace.
Absolutely! [Laughs] Hollywood would make a clever, psychological thriller. The fuse of The Iliad is not the abduction ofHelen of Troy, which started the war. The action opens at the end of the war, when nobody’s doing much of anything. The Greeks are restlessly waiting around, then stricken by plague. The Trojans are embattled in Troy. But by having so little background action, attention is focused on the eruption of trouble in the Greek camp between Achilles, the greatest warrior, and the commander-in-chief, Agamemnon.
The broad vision of the poem is that internal discord—disruption of the chain of command, subversion, even mutinous words—can be as fatal and destabilizing as a war between clearly drawn opponents. That’s where The Iliad declares that it’s going to be interested in things that are different from the martial epics of days of old. It’s interested in the minds and motivations and psychology of people as much as just the slugfest.
Achilles is one of the central characters. Why is he so pivotal?
He’s an interesting hero because he’s an outsider, an outlander. That kind of terminology is used even by serious scholars, who have analyzed how his language differs from those of other characters. He doesn’t quite belong. One very plausible theory is that, while the story of the Trojan War arose from an epic tradition, the legacy of Achilles originated in folk tales. If you look at traits of his—his magic armour or his horses, which speak in The Iliad—you can see the fairy tale context. He is such a wonderful folk-tale figure, who was so appealing and glamorous that he just had to be absorbed into this great, rolling story. Homer exploits that to very good effect. Achilles is central to the action. He’s the Achaeans’ absolute best warrior, the heart of the army. Everything he thinks and does is central to their fate. Yet he has a kind of distance that gives him the perspective to make the great speeches that he does in The Iliad, like the one in Book Nine where he declares that life is more valuable than glory.
“The first thing The Iliad underscores is that violence seems to be in our genes,” says Caroline Alexander. Here, a member of the Syrian opposition battles ISIS militants near Aleppo.
You taught classics in Malawi in the 1980s.  What did your African students made of Homer?
Back then, I was 25 and my job was to set up a new classics department. The living circumstances of most people in ancient Greece were very akin to the kind of environment my students came from: rural villages scattered about the countryside with a keen interest in communal entertainment, which included a lot of oral poetry. A Western classics teacher has to work very hard to set the context of the time—what it would be like if you were Medea and when you married your husband you had to move to a different region, with different people and had a fascination with magic. My students knew all of that from their own lives. So I came away with a very real appreciation for this glib phrase we use in the West, that the classics are “universal.” In Malawi, I realized they really are universal.
Londoners assess damage from a German bombing raid in September 1940. “Few would argue that World War II was anything other than a necessary war,” says Alexander.
 It turned out that the dictator of Malawi, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was an ardent classicist. I interviewed him for an article many years later. He was an old man by then and not compos mentis. All he could remember was his Latin. So my encounter with the longest ruling dictator in sub-Saharan Africa was conducted entirely in Latin.
Other epic poems about the Trojan Wars did not survive. Why did The Iliadstand the test of time?
I believe it was simply because it was the best telling. In Malawi, I did a lot of reading about different oral traditions in Africa and how they transitioned into the literate world. I believe the best explanation for The Iliad is that it was born at exactly this pivotal time. You had a person, Homer, of unknown age, who had grown up listening to people spinning live oral traditions. Then there was social change disruptive enough to allow someone like him to do the unthinkable: fashion the epic material in a way that is not possible in living oral tradition, which holds you to the format people already know. Homer took advantage of a break in tradition, which enabled a master poet like him to understand that by tweaking this traditional material, he could do something wholly remarkable and novel—use this martial epic to evoke the tragedy of war.
The war between the Trojans and Greeks began when Paris, a prince of Troy, kidnapped Helen, the wife of Menelaus, a Greek king. The ruins of Troy’s citadel can be found in Hisarlik, Turkey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
 Is there an actual first copy of The Iliad that you based your work on?
No, there is not. The earliest, best, and most complete Iliad is from 1100 or so A.D., in parchment. It’s in the Vatican library. From the name, Venetus A, we can assume it was made in Italy. What is particularly electrifying about that manuscript is that it has in the margins this wonderful scholarly commentary, which goes back to the ancient Hellenistic era, in the 4th century B.C. Later commentaries were made by the librarians in Alexandria, who were working from actual texts of Homer they had before them. There’s also an enormous amount of very painstaking, erudite technical work that’s been done over the centuries by modern Homeric scholars. The text I used, by Martin West, is the latest rendition of this. He went back and actually looked, either by physically holding in his hand or working from high resolution scans, at every single scrap of material, whether papyrus or manuscript, that had survived from antiquity with words of Homer on it.
Our world is again riven with war and conflict. What guidance can The Iliadgive us today?
I believe that, tragically, war is inescapable. I know that’s not a very politically correct thing to say. But when you read the scenes of rampage and battle in The Iliad, which Achilles casually evokes when he says, “I’ve stormed these cities from my ship,” and then look at what is happening with, say, ISIS, and the carnage and brutality there, you can see a lot of similarities. But the fact The Iliad still speaks true doesn’t just mean that it has prophetic powers. It means that those truths have always been there. They are enduring truths.
“The Iliad tells us that there will be tragedy,” says Alexander. Here, a U.S Army team at Dover Air Force Base transfers the remains of Sgt. Matthew A. Harmon, of Minnesota, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.
One scholar calculated that if you went back and chose any century at random in the past 5,000 years, about 96 years of that random 100 would show large scale conflict in one part of the globe or another. The first thing that The Iliadu nderscores is that violence seems to be in our genes. Whatever we do, war drags us in, even presidents who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. You can’t escape it.
The other thing that The Iliad tells us is that there will be tragedy. Somebody will knock on the door and a woman will go out and see a soldier standing in dress greens on her doorstep; and her heart will sink because she’ll know that he’s come to tell her that her husband or son has been slain in war. The Iliad is not complete in addressing the question of whether there’s such a thing as righteous war. That’s where we have to use our own historical memory. I think few would argue that World War II was anything other than a necessary war. The Iliad tells us that we’ll always have to make this decision. The world is never going to revert to some peaceful state, and the decision to go to war will always bring with it multifaceted tragedy.
Simon Worrall curates Book Talk. Follow him on Twitter or atsimonworrallauthor.com.



Ancient Greek City Knossos Thrived into the Iron Age



Greg Watry

The ancient city of Knossos, on the Greek Island of Crete, is steeped in mythology. It was the place where King Minos enlisted architect Daedelus to build the labyrinth, a perplexing maze that housed the half-man/half-bull the Minotaur.
Despite the fantastical myths, Knossos was a real place. The capital of the Minoan civilization, the remains of the city lie around 5 km south of the city Heraklion.
Recent fieldwork into the ancient city has revealed that the city not only recovered following the socio-political collapse of the Aegean palaces at the end of the Bronze Age, but that it thrived into the early Iron Age. 
Prof. Antonis Kotsonas, of the Univ. of Cincinnati, will highlight the field research at the 117th annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and Society for Classical Studies, which is scheduled from Jan. 7-10 in San Francisco.
While scholars have studied Knossos’ Bronze Age remains for centuries, only recently has focus been given to the city’s development in the Iron Age, which it entered around the 11th century BC. Through work with the Knossos Urban Landscape Project, which Kotsonas serves as a consultant on, researchers uncovered antiquities from fields, which covered the remains of dwellings and cemeteries.
“Distinguishing between domestic and burial contexts is essential for determining the size of the settlement and understanding the demographic, socio-political and economic development of the local community,” said Kotsonas. “Even at this early stage in detailed analysis, it appears that this was a nucleated, rather densely occupied settlement extending over the core of the Knossos valley, from at least the east slopes of the acropolis hill on the west to the Kairatos River, and from the Vlychia stream on the south until roughly midway between the Minoan palace and the Kephala hill.”
The identified imports include bronze and other metals, jewelry and adornments, and pottery.
The items recovered from the tombs, according to Kotsonas, provide a glimpse of the wealth of the community, as the dead were often buried with relics signifying status. The new discovery highlights the quality and quantity of imports coming from mainland Greece, Cyprus, the Near East, Egypt, Italy, Sardinia, and the western Mediterranean.
“No other site in the Aegean period has such a range of imports,” said Kotsonas.

The Knossos Urban Landscape Project is documenting and analyzing the development of the site form 7000 BC to the 20th century.