The Melitaia Archaeological Programme (MELAP) is a co-operation between the Ephorate of Antiquities of Phthiotida and Evrytania and the Finnish Institute at Athens, led by Konstandina Psarogianni (Ephorate) and Petra Pakkanen (FIA), with Lambros Stavrogiannis as Field Director. The project aims to examine the process of urbanization in the area from the Archaic period to at least the Roman era through surveying and small-scale excavations. The first field-season of the five-year programme was carried out in October-November 2022 and the second in June-July 2023. The Melitaia-team is international: we have scholars and students from Finland, Greece, Sweden and the UK as members of the team, and the international basis will certainly grow during the future years.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE SITE
The site of ancient Melitaia, one of the most important cities of ancient Achaia Phthiotis, is located east of the modern village with the same name. It is situated in the municipality of Domokos, at the northern foot of mount Othrys, near the mythically important river Enipeus. According to Strabo (9.5.6) the Melitaians claim that [the city of] Hellas was about ten stadia from themselves on the other side of the Enipeus, at the time when their own city was named Pyrrha, and that it was from Hellas that the Hellenes migrated to their own city; and to this they bear witness the tomb of Hellen, son of Deucalion and Pyrrha in their marketplace. Through its strategic position, Melitaia controlled the road connecting Thessaly with the Gulf of Malia, Thermopylae and southern Greece. This, together with a number of territorial arbitrations, made Melitaia a dominant city in the area of the Domokos plateau and of western Achaia Phthiotis. Melitaia flourished from the 5th century BCE until the late Roman era. In the years of Caracalla (beginning of the 3rd century CE), the city seems to have had the epithet Sebaste (revered), a title reserved to a few important cities (such as Larissa, Lamia and Hypate), a sign of the importance that these cities had acquired at this time.
Melitaia figures in several ancient written sources, Thucydides (4.78.1,3 and 5), Plutarch (Sul. 20.1) and Strabo (9.5.6) mentioning it amongst others, and we have a number of long inscriptions indicating the arrangements in the Melitaian polis (e.g. IG IX 2, 205 from 145 BCE). The chora of the polis seems to have occupied a fairly large area, the boundaries of which are known somewhat accurately thanks to these texts. From the 4th century BC, the Melitaians participated actively in the Delphic Amphictyony, sending one of the two hieromnemones representing Achaia Phthiotis.
In the same century, the city issued bronze coins with Zeus on the obverse and a bee on the reverse. During the Lamian War, the allied forces transferred their equipment to the well-fortified city of Melitaia, while in the middle of the 3rd century BC, it joined the League of the Aetolians. In the 3rd century BCE Melitaia entered into a sympoliteia with the small neighbouring polis of Pereia (Polyb. 5.97.5f; 9.18.5-9). In 217 BCE, Philip V failed to capture the city by surprise due to the height of its walls.
The ancient city is stacked on three large natural plateaus, that of the akropolis, of the anopolis (upper city), and the katopolis (lower city). The urban area is delimited in both east and west by the ravines of two streams. The total walled area covers approximately 67 hectares. Most of the katopolis is cultivated with cereals and fruit trees, with some areas left uncultivated. The city was strongly fortified by walls 3.80 m thick, with a dividing inner cross wall forming an upper and lower district. The akropolis has a large glade or clearing at the centre, while some parts are covered with kermes oak. Access to all sections is easy on foot along paths and dirt tracks, while the upper and lower city can also be reached by car.
PREVIOUS ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIELDWORK AT MELITAIA
The first archaeological research carried out in the area was instigated by Nikolaos Giannopoulos in the beginning of the 20th century. Giannopoulos was the secretary of the antiquarian society Othrys in Almyros, and he recorded and collected antiquities from all over the region which were later stored to the Almyros Museum. The first more systematic research was carried out by the German Friedrich Stählin, who published an outline of the topography of the area and the first plan of the fortification of the city in 1924, in Das hellenische Thessalien (Stuttgart). In the middle of the same century, G. Bakalakis identified a substantial Middle Helladic settlement at the location Taxiarchis west of the ancient city walls. In 1971–1972 the 9th Region of Antiquities of Thebes conducted excavations on the akropolis of the ancient city, where important finds were found. Some of them are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Lamia.
In the 1990s, the Ephorate of Antiquities of Phthiotis and Eurytania conducted rescue excavations in the plots and fields surrounding the city walls. Many structures were found, including parts of Hellenistic houses, further tombs, a Roman villa, as well as a sanctuary of Ennodia, one of only three excavated in Thessaly and Greece. In the same decade, the Italian Floriana Cantarelli, in collaboration with the Polytechnic of Milan, carried out an extensive surface survey (non-systematic site identification) in the wider area of the plateau of Domokos and Melitaia (only partially published). From time to time, residents of the village of Melitaia have found and handed over ancient artefacts to the Ephorate in Lamia. These include tombstones, pieces of marble statuature, inscriptions, coins, metal objects, shells and figurines, indicating a time-span from the Neolithic to the Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods.
THE PROJECT’S FIRST YEARS
During the first field-seasons of the new programme in Melitaia we have had the following aims: to provide a general survey of the huge site (ca. 70 hectars) for more detailed archaeological investigations during the years to come, to clear off the fill and collapse of trench walls from the X-shaped trench of the 1970’s excavation and document the structures underneath photogrammetrically, to map and measure the multiple walls particularly on the acropolis area, and to establish data-handling principles and conservation facilities for the future archaeological work. During the season 2023 systematic excavations were carried out in the chosen sections of the X-shaped area (right).
Due to the very large size of the site a LIDAR, i.e. Light Detection and Ranging -investigation was carried out from an aeroplane by Geomatics based in Athens. The result is an accurate relief depicting the earth’s surface, which gives indications of underground structures (left). In the geophysical work during the season 2022 magnetometric survey in four fields was carried out in the lower city. Magnetometry is well-suited for the local geology at the site, with results strongly indicating buried remains at several locations. The outlines of building foundations can be seen in the magnetometric image (below left). In 2023 further, more extended areas were magnetometrically investigated by Professor Grigoris Tsokas and his 4-person team (below right). The results give clear indications or roads and city-walls, foundations and rectangular shapes that could be point to buried ruins, edifices and vestiges.
Clearing in the X-shaped trenches of the 1970’s excavations has been carried out in the acropolis. In the area, walls of architectural structures were exposed and documented. These walls seem to continue with straight orientation beyond the cleared area. The stratified excavations of the 2023 season produced various finds; lots of generally well-preserved pottery from various periods, mostly from late Hellenistic to especially from the Roman period, yet for example also interesting earlier bronze items were unearthed. Generally finds demonstrate a variety of find categories and point to different types of past activities from various periods of time. For example, dozens of loom weights were found from a well-stratified context pointing to crafts activities.
Petra Pakkanen (FIA)
Konstantina Psarogianni (Ephorate of Antiquities of Phthiotida and Evrytania)
Petra Pakkanen (FIA)
Konstantina Psarogianni (Ephorate of Antiquities of Phthiotida and Evrytania)
Interns: Lina Enevång Viklund, Janne Kurvi, Aster Niemelä, Andrea Nyholm
Hansen, Mogens H. and Nielsen, Thomas H. 2004. ‘Thessaly and Adjacent Regions’ in An inventory of archaic and classical poleis, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 715-716.
Ioannidou, Α. 1972, ’Δοκιμαστική ανασκαφή εις Μελιταίαν Φθιώτιδος’, Αρχαιολογικά Ανάλεκτα εξ Αθηνών 5 (1972), 47-55.
Stavrogiannis, L. 2015, ’Το ”άστυ” και η ”χώρα” της αρχαίας Μελιταίας’ in Maria-Photini Papakonstantinou & Grigorios Tziallas (επ.), ΑΣΠΑΛΙΣ Ι: Πρακτικά ημερίδας για την ιστορία και την αρχαιολογία της Μελιταίας και της ευρύτερης περιοχής της, Αθήνα 2015, 87-109.
Stavrogiannis, L. 2018, ’Οι αρχαιολογικές έρευνες στην ακρόπολη της αρχαίας Μελιταίας’, Αχαιοφθιωτικά Ε΄: Πρακτικά του Ε΄ Συνεδρίου Αλμυριωτικών Σπουδών: Ιστορία, Αρχαιολογία, Λαογραφία Αχαΐας Φθιώτιδας, 14-16 Οκτωβρίου 2016 (Α΄ τόμος), 359- 375.
Mentions in ancient texts are listed on the TOPOS Texts website: https://topostext.org/place/390225UMel
Pakkanen, Petra ’How to plan a new archaeological project and implement environmental archaeology? A case of Melitaia in Greece’, Περιβάλλον, Αρχαιολογία και Τέχνη: Γεωαρχαιολογικές και Βιοαρχαιολογικές προσεγγίσεις (Ympäristö, arkeologia ja taide: Geoarkeologiset ja bioarkeologiset näkökulmat), Athens 14.10 2022.
Pakkanen, Petra, Konstantina Psarogianni, Stavros Lambrogiannis, Robin Rönnlund and Arto Penttinen: ’The Archaeological project of Melitaia’, about the project and the finds and methods of the first season, Domokos, 18.11 2022.
Pakkanen, Petra: ’Activities of the Finnish Institute at Athens 2022’, presentation of the fieldwork done at Melitaia during 2022, Athens, 17.5 2023.