New publication: “Landscape histories and terrestrial networks in the Peloponnese”

The survey’s latest publication is a long (46-page), multi-authored (10 of them) article in Hesperia entitled “Landscape histories and terrestrial networks in the Peloponnese: Results from the Western Argolid Regional Project,” which analyzes the relationship between terrestrial routes and human activity in the western Argolid and beyond.

The western Argolid, from the heights above Schinochori looking north towards Malandreni and Megalovouni. The winding route of the Moreas motorway is visible in the mid-distance.

The western Argolid, looking north from Mt. Bachriami towards Megalovouni (left) and Malandreni (right); photo D. Nakassis

The idea of surveying the western Argolid was due to a road, the Moreas motorway (visible in the image above). The construction of this road in the 1980s and 1990s provided an alternative way to get to the Argolid. Before the Moreas motorway was built, the old national road provided access via the Dervenakia pass; alternatively one could take the longer but picturesque road through Ayionori and Berbati. Both of these roads bring the traveler to the eastern side of the Argive plain: the Dervenakia road leads to Fychti and Mycenae, the Berbati road to Neo Ireo, south of the Argive Heraion. The new Moreas motorway, on the other hand, has exits at Dervenakia and at Sterna on the western side of the plain; the latter exposed us to the upland river valleys of the western Argolid that we had previously been ignorant of.

Our curiosity was piqued: what was out here? All of the directors and many of the team leaders had worked in the Corinthia and were familiar with the Argolid, but not with the western Argolid. Preliminary research suggested that this area was something of a lacuna in archaeological research in and around the Argive plain. With the exception of Argos and Lerna, most archaeological interest focused on the eastern side of the plain (Mycenae, the Argive Heraion, Tiryns, etc.). The topographical work that had been done in the western Argolid had focused on roads and traffic, especially across the mountain passes that facilitated traffic between the Argolid and Arkadia. At the head of the Inachos river was one such pass, called Portes (“Doors”). It was used in antiquity and it has a brief cameo in the Greek War of Independence, as we recount in the article.

Portes from the east, near Daouli; photo D. Nakassis

This is all to say that our survey project has been mildly obsessed with routes, roads, and terrestrial networks, and with what our survey has to contribute to our understanding of these networks. Our article in Hesperia argues that there’s a reciprocal relationship between routes and places. On the one hand, routes serve to facilitate movement between places where people live, work, and worship. On the other hand, movement through the landscape also promotes place-making of various kinds: small roadside shrines, fortifications that monitor traffic, and settlements. Our article analyzes these relationships as they unfold historically, by establishing where human activity is concentrated in different periods (based on our systematic surface survey) and by inferring the likeliest routes through the area, based on historical records, our experiences, and least-cost-path modeling. This analysis paints, we think, a dynamic picture of our region over time that will be of interest to a wide variety of readers.

More generally, we’d like to think that our paper contributes not only to the archaeological and historical study of the Argolid and the Peloponnese, but to larger issues in Greek landscape archaeology. In 2003, John Cherry (pp, 147-148) wrote that “we can put dots on maps, but we often have little real idea what they represent behaviorally (let alone how such cultural landscapes were conceptualized, experienced, and symbolized).” In some ways, this has been the 21st-century challenge of survey archaeology: to achieve an understanding of what landscapes and places meant to the people who inhabited them. There are many ways to do this, of course. For our project, movement and place-making are critical ingredients.

The trail up to Portes, with J. Frankl, M Godsey, M Gradoz, A Friedman, and G Erny (photo D. Nakassis)
The trail up to Portes, with five of the co-authors of the article (left to right): Joseph Frankl, Melanie Godsey, Machal Gradoz, Alyssa Friedman, and Grace Erny; photo D. Nakassis

You can take a look at the title page of the article here; please email me if you’d like a full offprint.

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