Prehistoric Ithaca, of myth, and the dawn of history.
(Archaeological research and historical myths)
(Summary) According to most recent scientific and archaeological references, North Ithaca, in the triangle between Polis – Treis Lagades – Pelicata – Aghios Athanasios/Homer’s school, and South Ithaca, at Kanata-Vathi and at Aetos, reveal findings with proof of life on the island through all phases of the Mycenaean and Geometric eras (1500 –700 BC).
Despite the inability so far to find traces of Mycenaean tombs, the continuity of life on Ithaca, and especially the smooth transition through the dark ages of the Proto-Geometric era (1050 BC) to the Geometric (900 BC) and Archaic era (700 BC) makes an exceptionally important statement differentiating Ithaca from the other Ionian Islands of the late Odyssean Kingdom. It is currently accepted scientifically that the general and cultural evolution of Ithaca coincides with that of other areas in Greece.
Moreover, of great importance is that the Odyssean awareness existed on the island before the epics were written (~750 BC), as proved by the discovery of two sanctuaries connected to the Odyssey: The sanctuary of Apollo at Aetos (1000 BC) and that of the cave in Polis (900 BC) with the symbolic offering of the first of the thirteen, tripod-lebes. Two more historical facts of great importance leave their mark on the post Homeric features of Ithaca: The renaming of the Ithacan city of Aetos to Alalkomenai, and the minting of the Odyssean coins.
Geological scientific evidence. The area occupied by the Kingdom of Odysseus in the Ionian Sea has remained unaffected by extreme geological phenomena for several hundred thousand years. Only minor changes have occurred, such as land subsidence by a few meters, deposits of silt and temporal effects from earthquakes that have periodically shocked the area. This is in response to Cephalonian allegations concerning extensive geological changes such as the subsidence of Paliki peninsula. (As to possible large scale geological changes in the area during the last 3-4000 years, two geological studies, instigated by Ithaca, resulted favourably for Ithaca: (a) by Prof. Th. Skoufos of Athens University, 1904 and (b) by Prof. H. Maroukian of Athens University, 2007.)
Archaeological and mythical chronological chart
(Note: Datings are indicative and assessments differ)
In a chronological chart combining archaeological findings and historical myth, the position implicitly adopted here is that of the Cephalonian archaeologist S. Marinatos that: ‘‘all historical myths used in the Epics (Saga) contain the core of historical truth’’.
The core of Ithaca’s historical truth can be found clearly imprinted at the site of the so called “Homer’s School” at Aghios Athanasios.
The existence and discovery of a pre-historic Megaron on this site is not incidental, according to Ioannina University archaeologists, a view further strengthened by current findings on this site. This is a thrilling and long awaited conclusion to a quest of at least two thousand years.
Even though this discovery is of catalytic importance, the writer believes that it can be presented as one of the ten Pillars of this presentation. Each of the other pillars, on its own merit, easily proves identification, while the Megaron offers an official hence unquestionable endorsement towords this end.
100.000-37.000 BC. Stone Age. Evidence of human presence found on the Ionian Islands and particularly from the later years of the Lower Paleolithic.
37.000-9000 BC. Middle Paleolithic Era. In Ithaca and the Ionian Islands evidence found of the Neanderthal species consisting of tools of the so called Mousterian technique.
6000-2800 BC. Neolithic Era. Added to the scant evidence of Paleolithic remnants are a small number of Neolithic findings from the cave in Polis, Pelicata, Aghios Athanasios and Kanata in Vathi.
3000-2900 BC. The cave in Polis. The cave was in use, although for unknown purposes, from the Early Helladic Period, as shown from the evidence of over 3000 potsherds now kept in the Stavros Museum.
3000-2800 BC. Early Helladic Period. Pelasgian Ithaca. A votive offering by Aredatis. In 1931, during excavations by the British School at Pelicata, two ceramic potsherds (ostraca) with engraved symbols dating from 3000-2700 BC were found. The votive Linear A inscriptions on the potsherds, as interpreted by French-American professor Paul Faure, refer to an offering on behalf of Aredatis to the Pelasgian goddess Rea of 100 goats, 10 sheep and 3 pigs. [Christos Tzakos, “Ekthesi synoptiki peri omirikis Ithakis” 2002, p. 36-37, Stavros Archaeological Collection]
2800-1100 BC. Bronze Age. During the Early and Middle Bronze Ages, the first settlements appear in the Ionian Islands. The first three discovered in Ithaca, were found in Pelicata, Stavros and Polis. Remnants of Early Bronze Age dwellings (2800-2600 BC) were found on land belonging to S. Raftopoulos and O. Lekatsas. Potsherds of Early Bronze Age (2800-2000 BC) were found on land belonging to A. Sobolas. It is worth noting that activity extended beyond the settlement’s walls, as shown from potsherds of the Early Bronze Age.
The fortified settlement of Pelicata supersesed while evolving at the same pace with other thriving Early Bronze Age settlements such as those of Lerna in Argolis, Askitario in Rafina, Attica and that of the city of Troy of the same period. The fertile hill of Pelicata was favourably situated for a settlement of an early community, as the bays of Afales, Frikes and Polis were within a close radius and easily controlled. Traces of the fortified wall, which was strengthened with towers, can still be found in certain places, seen in a single layer above ground. The art of pottery was imported from Corinth towards the end of the Early Bronze Age, and indicates pre-colonization mobility.
2000-1550 BC. Middle Bronze Age. During this period (1700-1550 BC) two new settlements, those of Treis Lagades and Aghios Athanasios add to the pre-existing three of the Early Bronze Age (Pelicata, Stavros and Polis). At the Aghios Athanasios site, excavation has revealed the existence of a prehistoric fortified settlement arranged on two levels (andira). A large Megaron of Middle Bronze Age is on the lower level of the central installation. (See relative 8th Pillar).
In the meantime, during the same era, a new, Proto-Greek speaking, Indo-European race from central continental Greece, the Minyans, arrived in the Ionian and in Ithaca. Their presence is indicated from the gray-burnished (Minyan) pottery (Pelicata, Heurtley). The burial practices and the limited number of pottery found in the area fail to substantiate a permanent settlement.
1400 BC. Treis Lagades. At the Treis Lagades site, the British School at Athens discovered a Mycenaean settlement and large quantities of ceramics. Missing are those of the Late Helladic III (LHIII, 1200-1050 BC). The site was apparently occupied by Mycenaeans who were involved in commerce with the west. Abundant Mycenaean pottery was found in the cave at Polis. Furthermore, at Aetos, the Simeonoglou excavations revealed that the oldest of the buildings was Mycenaean dating from 1400 BC (building B- cistern).
The Pelasgians, besides the Minyans, were followed by the Phoenicians, a seafaring and trading people. It is argued that their presence in the area is indicated from versions of Phοenician roots in words such as ‘Sam’ for Same and ‘Atak’, ‘Tok’, ‘Utica’ for Ithaca, while there are no signs of Phoenician colonization in the area.
1400-1300 BC. The Taphians, the Teleboeans and the mythical wars between Mycenae and Taphos. According to Homer’s Odyssey, the Teleboeans and the Taphians, skilled seafarers (Od. α 181) and pirates (Od. γ 73, π 426), inhabited what is today Cephalonia, Ithaca and the Echinades. The most prevailing theory accepts that the Taphians were anthropologically related to the race of the Leleges, the most ancient inhabitants of Acarnania. Late Cephalonian archaeologist Sp. Marinatos, supported that ‘‘Achaeans of Arkado-Μinyan descent landed on the islands from the west shores of the Peloponnese’’ (See previous reference on Minyans). He has further supported that ‘‘evidence leads to the acceptance of Cephalonia as the residence of the Taphians’’ and that ‘‘Cephalonia, according to ancient writings was named Taphos’’, and also that ‘‘the people of Taphos resided on the island of Cephalonia…’’
Following were the wars between the Teleboeans – Taphians and the Mycenaeans, caused by Pterelaus a pretender to the Mycenaean throne, an occurrence which drew the Taphians into the conflict. The wars which broke out for the control of the straights -sea routes- on either side of Ithaca, ended with the victory of the Mycenaeans led by Amphitryon. Amongst his allies were Cephalus from Attica and Eleios from Elis. Both, according to myths, built famous towns which they inhabited (a reference to the island of Cephalonia, whose name during this period is unknown). It is worth noting, always according to Marinatos, that from pre-Homeric times, historical myth marked the ‘‘ex islands of the Taphians’, Cephalonia and Ithaca, with place-names that reveal their deep mythical past and outline their history. It is neither accidental nor unimportant that the modern island of Cephalonia is marked with four pre-Homeric and Homeric place-names that refer directly to the Cephalonian myth, and have no relation to Homeric Ithaca and in particular:
a) Eleios-Kateleios (Eleios) in the SE (opposite Elis). Eleios led the Peloponnesian army during the Mycenaean campaign. Note here that this area of Eleios-Kateleios is the area claimed as Homeric Ithaca of Tzanata or Poros.
b) Mount Taphion in Paliki and the Monastery of Taphiou in the SW end of Paliki.
c) Homeric Same, and
d) Dolicha (former Municipality of Dulichieon) and the Gulf of Dolicha on the east coast of Cephalonia
Ithaca (with its Homeric place-names) has always been, and still is, Ithaca, and the choice of the name Alalkomenai in the 6th century BC had a profound Odyssean significance.
1300 BC. The Achaean race of Cephallanes. Occupation of the islands went from the Taphians to the, according to Marinatos, Cephallanes or Cephallenians, a race of, presumably, mainland origin. These were the Cephallanes (a race, not only the inhabitants occupying then what is now present day Cephalonia, as wrongly maintained by some theories) that were led by Odysseus during the Trojan War, and it was the race of Cephallanes that at about 450 BC gave their name to the island of Cephalonia (and again not the mythical hero Cephalus from the Demos of Cephalos in Attica as maintained by other theories).
The “Zeus-born” kingdom of Ithaca. The kingdom of Ithaca, according to Homer, was ‘‘Διογενές’’ (Diogenes), that is Zeus-born. The creation of the kingdom of Ithaca came when Mycenaens won the Taphians and a new regime was established in the Ionian. Ithaca was apparently chosen as the most strategically suitable island able to secure the new peace and safe navigation in the region. The head of the Ithacan dynasty was the Zeus-born Arkeisios (or Arceisius), of Cephallenian race and father of Laertes. He was the son of Zeus and Euryodeia (or according to other myths son of Cephalus and Arctos or Prokris).
1250 BC. The Argonautica. Laertes, the king of Ithaca, took part in this voyage according to the myth.
1250-1230 BC. Conquest of Nerikos. Laertes, the ‘‘Taphian hero’’. Under the command of Laertes, the important city of Nerikos, situated on the isthmus joining Leucas with mainland Acarnania, where the fort now stands, was conquered (Od. ω 375-378).
1210-1200 BC. Establishment of the kingdom of Ithaca under Odysseus, the Zeus-born king.
1200 BC (early according to Heurtley). The Trojan War. United, the Achaeans of the Mycenaean period went to war against the kingdom of Troy, a war now considered a historical fact. The expedition forces of the Cephallenian islands (and not only the Cephallenians inhabiting what is now present-day Cephalonia) with a fleet of ten ships, were led by the king of Ithaca Odysseus, who played a leading part in many difficult phases of the expedition. He was finally gloriously rewarded with his inspired invention of the ‘‘Trojan horse’’, the final catalytic act resulting in victory for the Achaeans.
The Settlement at Pelicata is not considered significant and does not seem to survive to the beginning of the 12th century BC (E. Vikela). Heurtley maintained that the Mycenaean findings at Pelicata coincide with the pre-war and war period of the Trojan War. Thus, given the uncertainty of the Mycenaean period, he concludes, that we are justified in placing the palace of Odysseus in Pelicata alone, a theory that was not generally adopted.
Moreover, the British School at Athens maintained that in South Ithaca, the settlement of Aetos was inhabited from the 12th century BC.
1125 BC. Fall of the kingdom of Ithaca. By the end of the Mycenaean period, the kingdom of Ithaca was overthrown by the Dorians. According to tradition, its last King was Persepolis, the grandson of Odysseus (Heurtley placed the Dorian invasion at the end of the 12th century BC, about 80 years after the end of theTrojan War).
1100-1050 BC. The smooth historical transition. In Ithaca, despite the Dorian invasion, a unique event occurred. In Aetos, and in the cave at Polis, archaeology confirms findings that testify to a smooth transition from the so-called ‘‘Greek Dark Ages’’ of the Protogeometric period (1050 BC, church of St. George at Aetos) to the Geometric (900 BC) and Archaic period (700 BC). (Note: The ‘Greek Dark Ages’ are placed between 1100 and 800 BC).
1050 BC. The settlement of Aetos. On the pass and up to the top of Aetos an extended settlement existed from the Protogeometric (1050-700 BC) to the Hellenistic period (500 BC). The Acropolis of Aetos is surrounded by a polygonal wall. Parts of its fortification are dated from 500 BC. The settlement of Aetos was the most prominent settlement in Ithaca during the Geometric period.
1000 BC The sanctuary of Apollo in Aetos, (which later became a temple) is an exceptionally early and important sanctuary, unique in the area of the Ionian and of Pan-Hellenic importance. Votive-offerings from Crete, Ionia (Asia Minor) and Euboea, confirm the importance of the sanctuary for seafarers heading west. During the following years, years of great prosperity, the actual sanctuary seems to have ceased to operate, while nearby, later excavations revealed a temple of Apollo (Building A) (Od. υ 277-78). A bronze statuette of Apollo and a lyre, which are kept and occasionally exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, were found on this site (Kaligas), while later, a potsherd engraved with the name of the god, was found by Symeonoglou.
900 BC. The first votive offering (tripod lebes) in the cave at Polis. The sacred cave in Polis, sacred to all Ithacans as well as passing seafarers, received its first bronze tripod-lebes, as a votive offering in honour of Odysseus. This was followed by twelve more over the next two centuries. It is worth noting that the cave in Polis was for at least a millennium the worship center for the whole island, and that the votive offering of the first tripod took place before Homer’s Epic, the Odyssey, was written.
800-700 BC (or 1000-800 BC). The flourishing and prosperous town at Aetos. Archaeology has established that the island’s years of prosperity, and especially that of the city at Aetos, lasted for at least two centuries. Coincidentally (?) the writing of the Iliad and the Odyssey was completed between these two centuries. Amongst other fields, the art of pottery was developed on the island during this period of prosperity, resulting in a particular form of Ithacan pottery and painting based on the Corinthian geometric style. Archeologist Kaligas refers to a ‘‘protogeometric house” – megaron (1050 BC) to which he connects the pottery and that “the house or family possibly connected to the Ithacan myths of Odysseus, Telemachus and Penelope”. It is also alleged (E. Vikela) that the Dorians respected the city of Aetos/Alalkomenai for reasons connected with renowned Odyssean lore, while still maintained is the belief that the travels of Euboeans and Corinthians, founders of the first western colonies, inspired the creation and writing of the Odyssean epic.
Archaeology has recognized yet another sign of the area’s prosperity: A collection of one of the highest number of ivory objects of the Hellenic world after Sparta, Perachora and Ephesus was discovered in the city of Aetos/Alalkomenai. A more detailed picture of the alleged wealth of Ithaca, in gold and jewelry, was revealed in 1820 by the British Thomas Smart Hughes, in a quoted passage of his memoires (see 10th Pillar).
700 BC. The Ithacan alphabet. The signature of the potter Callicles found on an ancient ceramic pot indicates that the Ithacan alphabet is a variation of the Achaean and not the Corinthian, which was originally thought the case because of commercial relations with Corinth and neighbouring Leukas, a Corinthian colony.
600 BC. The city of Alalkomenai. (*) The city of Aetos at about 600 BC was renamed, apparently officially, to Alalkomenai, after the town in Boeotia, which was considered the common birth place of Athena and Odysseus, although some sources state that the name was given by Odysseus himself in the 12th century BC. The name Alalkomenai is considered a strong historical indication of the Odyssean physiognomy of Ithaca of the 6th at least century BC, if not the 12th century BC. The whole enterprise is highly indicative of vivid Odyssean tradition.
600 BC. (?) Sanctuary of Artemis. Somewhere in South Ithaca, between Aetos and Vathi, there must have been a sanctuary of Artemis, an inscription from which is now in a Museum in Brussels.
550 BC. A great offering at the cave in Polis. A grave of an obviously eminent Ithacan was found at the devotional cave in Poli, with an inscription dedicated to Athena and Hera, goddesses connected to Ithaca and the heroes of the epics.
500-450 BC. The fortification of the Acropolis of Aetos. The Acropolis of Aetos is fortified with a cyclopean wall.
400-300 BC. Minting of the Odyssean coins. In the city of Alalkomenai on Aetos, local coins were minted, Odyssean coins providing further evidence.
(*) Alalkomenai (Alalkomenae). Alalkomenai was a city in Boeotia (there is still a village bearing the same name in the area), alleged to be the birth-place of Athena, where an ancient sanctuary existed with an ivory statue of Athena, the “Alalkomenion”. The sanctuary was pillaged in 86 BC by Syllas, who also destroyed and pillaged the city. Odysseus, a protégée of Athena, was also allegedly born in, or close to, this city and so sometimes named Odysseus ‘‘Alalkomenios’’. In the 6th century BC, the inhabitants of the prosperous town of Aetos, in honour of the birthplace of Athena and Odysseus, renamed the town Alalkomenai. As to the time this took place: the British Homerist, and student of Homeric Ithaca, William Martin Leake, in his travel memoires (Travels in Northern Greece, 1835, Volume III, Chapter XXII, p. 47-8), calling upon sources from Plutarch and Strabo, states that the name was given by Odysseus himself in the 12th century BC. See also Hypomnemata by Istrus of Alexandria. Furthermore, the encyclopedia Papyros-Larousse-Britannica, calling upon historical data (fortifications, etc), gives as a possible date 507-359 BC. Homer does not mention the name, but refers to Athena as Alalkomenean Athene (Il. Δ 8, Ε 908). The reference to Alalkomenae continues to be, even in 500 BC, another important reference to the Odyssean physiognomy of Ithaca.