The author in the field somewhere in Sikyonia
Yannis Lolos in the Land of Sikyonby Andrew Reinhard
Ancient Sikyon, in the northeastern Peloponnese, was a major player on the Mediterranean stage, especially in the Archaic and Hellenistic periods. Yannis Lolos, in his new book, Land of Sikyon: Archaeology and History of a Greek City-State, presents the city of Sikyon and its surrounding landscape in a comprehensive study combining a discussion of the geological and historical background, the results of original research and many years of archaeological fieldwork. Drawing upon the limited excavations in Sikyonia, literary sources, and mostly his own extensive survey data, Lolos traces the history of the human presence in the territory of Sikyon from prehistory to the early modern period. Detailed maps plot the positions of many previously unknown roads, fortifications, and settlement sites.
In an email interview, Lolos discussed his interest in Sikyon and its environment, what his volume adds to the archaeology and history of Sikyonia, the value of “kafeneion archaeology,” and next steps in the exploration and preservation of the region’s archaeological legacy.
What first drew your attention to Sikyon and greater Sikyonia?
My father’s family is from the area, and I have known the archaeological site since I was a child. Later on, as a student, I came to realize that there is more to an ancient city than its public monuments, that there is something called a “chora” that was vital to the growth and survival of the city. When looking for a dissertation topic back in the mid-1990s, I discovered that we knew very little about the Sikyonian countryside. I decided to go for it.
How does this volume build upon what is currently known about the region? What did you hope to accomplish with the book?
All of us working in the northeastern Peloponnese benefit greatly from the Corinth and Isthmia excavations, with their rich and high-quality publication record. Thanks to these we know a lot about the history of Corinth from the earliest phases to the Tourkokratia. Yet, as these excavations focus on urban and sanctuary centers, the broader Corinthia (especially its western half) was virtually unknown. My work aimed precisely at filling this gap by exploring an area that was, for over 1,000 years, an independent city-state with specific boundaries and within a very interesting geopolitical context: “civilized” Corinth to the east, and “underdeveloped” Arkadia and Achaia to the south and west.
The other aim of the book was simply to record and map as many visible archaeological sites as we could, to help local communities become aware of the importance of these sites and, by extension, the need to protect them. The obliteration of archaeological sites in modern Greece as a result of building, farming, and massive landscaping operations is alarming, and I witnessed this on a number of occasions during the years I was working in Sikyonia.
In the book’s Register of Sites, how many of them are new to the archaeological community? Have you visited each site? For the new sites in the register, how did you discover them?
The overwhelming majority of sites (some 80%) are new, but this is perhaps not the most important thing. More important to the scholarly community is to know how we treated each site: at every habitation site (as opposed to sites of special activity; such as quarries, cisterns, and animal pens) we conducted a mini-survey, walking it in parallel lines spaced closely together, recording artifacts, collecting diagnostics, and mapping in-situ remains and what we thought the boundaries of each site were. The discovery of many of the new sites we owe to local farmers who initially took me there, but a few others were discovered by randomly walking “promising” areas.
During your early survey work, you did a fair bit of “kafeneion archaeology.” Do you have a favorite story to share?
One of the things I regret not doing was recording the stories that I heard in the kafeneia across Sikyonia. Some were fascinating and, surprisingly enough, not exclusive to this area but were told in other parts of Greece, although with different protagonists.
One of my favorite stories is about the hidden treasure of Kyamil-bey, who was head of the kaza of Corinth in the late 18th and early 19th century and possessed thousands of stremmata of land. The story is that when Kyamil saw trouble on the horizon, he decided to hide his golden treasures in the Moungostos forest, a beautiful oak forest to the southwest of Sikyon. It seems as if this legend has been haunting modern Sikyonians ever since. I have met at least a dozen people who at some point in their lives went to Moungostos looking for the spot, some more than once. And they always looked at me with great suspicion when I was about to venture into that forest, which, by the way, is almost devoid of archaeological sites.
How much literary and epigraphical research did you do to facilitate your explorations in Sikyonia? Were Plutarch and Pausanias the most helpful, or were there other ancient authors who proved valuable?
Inscriptions from the territory of Sikyon are notoriously rare, although there are a couple that are priceless: one rupestral and one inscribed on a bronze tablet. Ancient literary references are also few, but I was fortunate to have the testimony of Pausanias, who visited part of the territory. Generally speaking, I did not let these scanty written sources guide my archaeological exploration of the Sikyonian hinterland.
Your book contains a wealth of diverse information ranging from geology and climate, to flora and fauna, to history, to the network of roads, to settlements and sanctuaries. Do you see Land of Sikyon as the definitive, comprehensive study of the region? Even though the first recorded excavation in Sikyonia occurred in 1802, is archaeology of the region still relatively new? What do you think the priorities should be for future exploration, excavation, and preservation?
As I say in the preface to the monograph, my work is just a reconnaissance of the land of Sikyon, and by no means a final treatment of the subject. In fact, the work done so far has allowed me to see how much more there is to do and to prioritize future fieldwork: intensive (siteless) survey of selected areas, excavation of specific sites representative of the archaeology of the Sikyonian chora, and of course preservation of monuments and sites, that are continuously under threat.
One of the first things I did after finishing my fieldwork was to submit to the local Ephoreia a selective list of sites (a dozen out of the 200+ that I recorded) that are worth including on the list of protected monuments and sites maintained by the Ministry of Culture. The example of Thekriza, perhaps the most important extraurban settlement of Archaic and Classical Sikyon and now subject to aggressive plowing and landscaping, breaks my heart.
Almost no systematic archaeological work has been carried out beyond the city of Sikyon, and the excavations that were conducted within the city are rather old-style, monument-hunting initiatives. In the last decade or so, major excavations have been going on in the coastal plain for the construction of the new railway and the new highway to Patras. When the results of these massive rescue excavations are published, our knowledge of Sikyon, especially in the Late Bronze Age and from the Geometric to the Classical period, will improve tremendously.
Land of Sikyon: Archaeology and History of a Greek City-State is available for purchase. Click here to order and to download sample content.
Land of Sikyon: Archaeology and History of a Greek City-State
Hesperia Supplement 39
664 pp, 427 col and bw figs, 6 col maps in back pocket
8.5” x 11”
Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0-87661-539-3