When you talk about influential cities, or poleis, in ancient Greece, those that usually come to mind are Athens and Sparta. But the regions controlled by these cities were perhaps just as relevant. One example is the ancient Thouria – located on the outskirts of what is now the southern city of Kalamata – often referred to as one of the most important cities in western Messinia, a region under Spartan rule for about 400 years. Now, recent archaeological discoveries could corroborate that this long-lost city was much more important than previously thought.
Archaeologist Xeni Arapogianni was excavating the area in 2007, when the remains of a wall became visible. What was underneath was much more than she had expected: the whole town of ancient Thourie had been hiding there from the start. So far, the finds have included a temple and a asclepion, an ancient healing center similar to a hospital, which had not been recorded in any ancient or modern source – a completely new and unexpected discovery at the time.
More recently, in 2016, the excavation group found the remains of a white limestone theater, estimated to date at the beginning of the Hellenistic period (323 – 31BC). The presence of such a construction in Thouria could indicate the importance of the city, since the theaters were practically a compulsory presence in the notable poles of ancient Greece. The excavation also uncovered part of an orchestra pit and well-preserved stone figurines, as well as a large rectangular stone conduit for discharging rainwater.
In his 10-book travelogue, Description of Greece, the Greek geographer Pausanias, who lived in the 2nd century AD, noted that the old town of Thouria was built on a hill and then moved to a valley. He also mentioned that the city could be Anthea, a city featured in Homer’s Iliad. Curiously, Strabo, another Greek geographer and historian from the 1st century BC, also wrote that Thouria could be a city mentioned in the Iliad – not Anthea, but Aepeia. In the epic poem of the 8th century BC, the two cities were given by Agamemnon in atonement to Achilles.
Arapogianni’s site studies are continuing today. Since 2011, university students from around the world have been able to participate in an excavation program led by the archaeologist, where they can learn more about the archaeological method and the history of the region and help clean up the pottery.
(Video by Nikolia Apostolou; text by Luana Harumi)
This video is part of BBC Reel’s Hidden Histories playlist.
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