Venetian maps of the Peloponnese

No trip to Greece is complete without multiple trips to the amazing bookstores of Athens. I now usually spend an absurd amount of money every summer buying a huge stack of big, heavy books and having them mailed back to the US. One of the first I picked up this year is an edited volume, published in 2018, with an exciting topic: the Venetian maps of the Peloponnese! I bought it at once:

This wonderful edited volume deals with a newly (in 1986) discovered archive in the Austrian War Archive, composed of 53 pages of maps drawn by Venetian engineers during the second Venetian rule of Greece, 1685–1715.

I bought this book because this period fascinates me and I know too little about it, but it’s also directly relevant to our project, because Argos and Nafplio were Venetian possessions, and so too were the villages of our survey area. I have read a little bit about the Venetian archives for the Peloponnese, in the books written by Panagiatopoulos (Πληθυσμός και οικισμοί της Πελοποννήσου: 13ος-18ος αιώνας [1985]) and Liata (Αργεια Γη [1993]), but the maps are especially interesting for the survey because of their topographical content. I’ve just read Liata’s fascinating chapter about the region of Argos in these Venetian maps and thought that I’d write a bit about my observations.

First, the Venetian maps don’t include many details from our survey zone. Basically it indicates the villages and toponyms that lie on the borders of the villages. I’m not sure if this means anything; it could mean, for instance, that this area wasn’t very interesting, or very wealthy, or it might just be an accident of preservation. As Liata points out, there are a lot of details that are recorded in Venetian archives that don’t appear on the map.

Second, not a lot seems to have changed! The villages are located more or less where they are now. It’s possible that the villages have moved somewhat (although we don’t have any archaeological evidence for that). The map isn’t detailed enough to say for certain, but certainly the map is consistent with the idea that the villages haven’t moved. The names haven’t changed much, either! Modern Λυρκεία, which was called Kato Belesi until 1938, is referred to as “Cato Belessi”, and the names of Malandreni and Schinochori also haven’t changed. An area now called Μουζάκι is identified as Musachi. Interesting, the village now called Sterna is identified as Grias to Lithari: i.e., Γριάς το Λιθάρι (“the old lady’s rock”). What’s really interesting is that this toponym still exists!

It’s also the case that the larger villages now were larger in the early 18th century (Kato Belesi [pop. 511 in 2001], Malandreni [pop. 540]), and the villages that are smaller now (Sterna [182], Schinochori [381]) are listed as being deserted (“desabitata”) in the early 18th century. So contrary to our expectations, perhaps, there’s a lot of continuity in that the bigger villages  stay big through the modern period.

Third, and finally, there’s more work to be done. The local toponyms that run along the borders of the villages are sometimes known, sometimes unknown, and I suspect that they have a story to tell, and as Liata effectively shows, the textual accompaniments to these maps, in connection with the maps themselves, are important sources that enhance our historical understanding.

It’s really amazing that such an important historical source remained hidden until so recently… I’m excited to read the other chapters of the volume. If you’re at all interested in the Venetian period or the Peloponnese, you really need to get your hands on this book.

Some views of the Argolid

Yesterday afternoon Scott and I hiked up to the Frankish castle above the village of Myloi. From the top of the hill there were some magnificent views of the Argolid (click to see the full image):

We also heard a good story at dinner: that the castle was the home of the queen, and that under the castle is an underground passage that the queen used to go to the beach.

Field trips

Bill presents Monument M at Argos

Real archaeological projects in Greece go on field trips. Lots and lots of field trips. This involves waking up earlier than we want to on the weekend (or on religious holidays), driving in caravans of small rental cars that can’t both run the AC and go up mountainous roads easily, getting lost, taking the wrong turn, doing a crazy three-point turn, then finally reaching the destination, traipsing through overgrown archaeological sites that are seldom visited but extremely important, and standing around in the sun while one person talks. Then we scramble over the site, get back in the cars, and start all over again.

Our normal time for field trips is Saturday morning. That gives all of us Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday to do some paperwork, go to the beach, and recover from the week. (Different members of the project do different proportions of these activities; I haven’t been to the beach yet, unfortunately). So this Saturday was our first field trip. We also went on a field trip today (Monday), because it is a religious holiday and we can’t work without our friendly supervisor from the local archaeological office.

EH palace

On Saturday, we stayed local. First we went to the site of Lerna, famous for its Early Bronze Age corridor house, commonly known as the House of Tiles but as an “Early Helladic palace” on the on-site signs (left). Lerna allowed us to show the students what saddle querns look like — there’s a whole stack of them near the House of Tiles — and to introduce them to the Early Bronze Age, and at a site that is almost literally spitting distance from where we eat dinner every night.

scott_argos_theaterNext was the theater of Argos (right), where Scott ably summarized a millennium of Argive history and archaeology, followed by a tour of the agora of Argos. Unfortunately we then made the decision to go to the Larisa (the acropolis of Argos) through downtown Argos, which was at the time holding its laiki (farmer’s market). That was a bad decision. Stuck in traffic, I convinced Bill to jump out of the car to buy donuts at a local shop, but at that point traffic starting moving quickly enough that our donut plan was thwarted.



Next, we hit the Larisa and the Aspis, the two acropoleis of Argos (Livy 34.25: nam duas [arceshabent Argi). From the Larisa we had beautiful views of the Argolid:

Looking towards Myloi
Looking towards Myloi
Looking north towards our survey area
Looking north towards our survey area
Argos from the Larisa
Looking towards Nafplion
Looking towards Nafplion

bill_larisa Here, Bill briefly reviewed the history of post-Roman Argos, picking up where Scott left off. (Notice that we are all standing in the sun). Conveniently, a Byzantine chapel formed the backdrop to his talk.




We ended the day on the Aspis, where Bill got really excited when he started talking about the early Christian basilica (left) next to the sanctuary of Apollo Pythios.



Gymno_Dimitri_2000Monday we headed north and into the mountains. First we hit the remains of the Hadrianic aqueduct that brought water from Stymphalos to Corinth. There are seven arches just outside the village of Gymno, where I presented a short report summarizing the high points of the excellent article on the aqueduct by Yannis Lolos. (That part of the trip involved crazy three-point turns and people getting lost, which was mostly my fault).

From Gymno, we proceeded to Aidonia, the site of an important Mycenaean cemetery with a controversial past. Fortunately, we ran into Kim Shelton, who’s beginning a project to salvage the rest of the cemetery, which is now being looted (again). After a quick tour of the site, we moved onto the main show: Stymphalos.

Natural beauty!
Sarah, standing next to the tower she helped to excavate.
Sarah, standing next to the tower she helped to excavate.

Here, Sarah presented on the history and archaeology of the city. (Like WARP, the Stymphalos excavations are a project of the Canadian Institute in Greece). Sarah is herself a veteran of the excavations, and although back then (in 1999) she considered herself a prehistorian, she’s since become an expert on the Hellenistic period in the northeastern Peloponnese: so Stymphalos is now squarely in her wheelhouse!

We then went to the Cistercian monastery of Zaraka (below), where Bill presented on the architecture of the monastery and the history of the Frankish Peloponnese.










From Stymphalos, we drove back home via Nemea, past the Ayia Sotira excavations in which I participated as an excavation supervisor. I had hoped that we could visit the tower above Kephalovryso and the fortification walls of ancient Alea, but alas, time is limited. Next week: Tiryns and Nafplio!