Ancient History & Civilisation


Can We See the “Hoplite Revolution” on the Ground? Archaeological Landscapes, Material Culture, and Social Status in Early Greece

Introduction: A Hoplite Revolution?

The issue of the emergence of hoplite phalanxes in early Greek communities offers a challenging case study for exploring the ways in which archaeological and historical data can be combined, or not, to address questions about social and political developments central to Archaic poleis. A hoplite is not just a material cultural assemblage, although at one level he is defined by scholars by the particular assemblage(s) of weaponry he wore and carried (van Wees 2005: 47–52). Hoplite equipment appears to have varied regionally, over time, and even between individuals, but the core elements were the spear and shield (van Wees 2005: 48; Giuliani 2010). Indeed, “a hoplite” is hardly the issue: it is the hoplite phalanx, the emergence of a group of men fighting together as a team (van Wees 2005: 166–68), that has most interested historians. Fundamentally, the historical debates have focused on the emergence of the hoplite phalanx as a tactic and its relationship to the phalanx as a sociopolitical group, generally believed to be synonymous with property owners (Hanson 1999: 69; 223–24; van Wees 2005: 55–57). The logic of the various arguments presented associates (1) the shared experience of being, almost literally, joined in battle with (2) the shared ideologies that (3) fed into the ideals of a shared political community, whose members (4) held a stake in the security (and sometimes expansion) of a territory they owned and farmed for a living, although not always in this order (Hanson 1999: 235–37).

Hanson (1999: 47–88) dates the social and political environment that generated the social group and political community of hoplites to the late eighth century. He takes Laertes as epitomizing the Zeitgeist of the phenomenon, “a representation of an entire new class of farmers” (Hanson 1999: 49). A key element in Hanson’s interpretation is Laertes’ permanent residence on his rural farmstead, rather than in a nucleated settlement (Hanson 1999: 51). For Hanson, these “middling” farmers, “independent moderate property owners,” served as hoplites to defend their farms and communities (Hanson 1999: 69, 87–88 and passim). Hanson (1999: 40, 50, 79–82) also envisages this period as a time when farmers spread onto “eschatiai,” “marginal lands,” as a result, he postulates, of “population pressure and the scarcity of good bottom land” (Hanson 1999: 82). For the most part Hanson supports his argument for dispersed rural residence (in his terms, “homestead residence”) with evidence from contemporary (e.g., Homer’s Odyssey and Hesiod’s Works and Days; Hanson 1999: 443–45) and later (e.g., Thucydides, Ps-Aristotle, Ath. Pol.; Hanson 1999: 445–46) literary sources. However, he also invokes at a general level the discoveries of extensive and intensive archaeological survey and the excavation of farmhouses of the Classical period to support this argument (Hanson 1999: 51–53; 445–46).

Van Wees places both the development of the phalanx as a hoplite infantry force (van Wees 2005: 56) and the rise of hoplites as a political class in Athens (van Wees 2005: 177) in the sixth century BCE (see also van Wees, this volume). His argument for the development of the phalanx as a fighting tactic is based on a combination of early Greek poetry (especially Tyrtaeus), the archaeological evidence of preserved weapons, and the iconographic evidence, especially of Athenian and Corinthian vases (van Wees, this volume; 2005: 166–79). In contrast, his arguments about the enfranchisement of hoplites as a property-holding group are based primarily upon the, mostly later, historical sources relating to Solon’s property classes and the reforms of Kleisthenes. In his view, the early sixth-century “reforms” extended political participation and military service in the phalanx to the zeugitai, a group that was still part of the wealthy elite in Athens (van Wees, this volume; 2001; 2005: 55–56, 80–81; 2007: 276; Foxhall 1997). The political reorganization of Kleisthenes devolved military organization to the new political units of tribes and demes, although the generals, who held both political office and military command, were elected (van Wees 2005: 99). For van Wees (2001), the key feature is that hoplites in Athens and other Archaic poleis were (prosperous or elite) farmers and property holders within the community; he does not address the specific question of residence.

The exploration of Mediterranean landscapes through archaeological survey over the past thirty years has transformed our understanding of the ancient Greek polis in its territorial setting. We now have a relatively clear picture of the rural countrysides within which the urban centers of the polis developed and were embedded. The growth of this body of archaeological data has provided us with an additional tool for working through the complex spatial, social, and political relationships between town and country. However, this additional source of data has introduced new, and exacerbated existing, methodological issues. Archaeological and historical data differ in character, and historical “events” do not map easily onto archaeological “events” (Foxhall 2000). Can we use archaeological data to address questions of social and political status in Archaic Greece? If so, what questions can we legitimately ask of these data? Can archaeological evidence be mobilized to address the historical issues of whether the hoplite phalanx was coterminous with “middling” (Hanson 1999: 69) or prosperous (van Wees 2005: 55–56) property holders and whether this phenomenon began in the eighth or sixth century BCE?

Using Archaeological Data: Landscape and Survey

If, as historians, we wish to engage with archaeological evidence, we must first be aware of how it is generated and of what, precisely, it consists. It is no use simply swiping the conclusions from the archaeology book without understanding how and on what basis those interpretations were reached (Alcock and Cherry 2004: 5). When historians do this, it can result in the promulgation of major misunderstandings and misinterpretations (and the same is true in reverse, when archaeologists try to use the conclusions of historians on textual data) (Osborne 2004). It is easy to forget that archaeological data are no more “neutral” or “unbiased” than historical data, and that archaeologists, like historians, have often “found” what they were looking for—that is, their results and interpretations are shaped by the questions they were asking in the first place.

The methodologies of intensive archaeological survey were first developed by American archaeologists working in the “New Archaeology” tradition of the 1960s and 1970s (e.g., Binford et al. 1970:1–2, 7–15; Mueller 1974). These techniques were first applied in the Greek world in the 1970s, first in a limited way by the Minnesota Messenia Expedition (McDonald and Rapp 1972)—still really a more precise form of extensive survey—and more fully by Renfrew and Wagstaff in Melos (1982). A number of major survey projects were carried out in Greece and Italy during the 1980s and 1990s, and intensive survey continues to be a major feature of Greek and Mediterranean archaeological projects at present. With the advent in the 1990s and 2000s of GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and other computer-based techniques for analyzing and reconstructing landscapes (Gillings 2000), the techniques and methodologies of collection, recording, and interpretation are continuing to develop in sophistication (Caraher et al. 2006; Tartaron et al. 2006; Sullivan et al. 2007; Lolos et al. 2007).

The fundamental basis of intensive survey, in a very oversimplified form, is the systematic sampling of a landscape by walking small teams over a selection of areas of known size, measured out in a grid where possible, and generally chosen by some explicit sampling methodology. The team then records and, as appropriate, collects or systematically samples all traces on the surface of the ground of human use of that part of the landscape, from all periods usually up to and including the present. Although survey teams are sometimes lucky enough to discover architectural features such as towers or structures, the bulk of the archaeological material found and collected is ceramics and lithics (stone tools and debitage from their manufacture). The density of artifacts in any particular part of the landscape is interpreted as significant for the intensity of human activity in that location, and is sometimes important for determining its specific character. So, for example, a settlement (e.g., a village) generally has a much higher density of artifacts than land that appears to have been used as cultivated fields, which might only have a “background” scatter of artifacts, or in some cases none at all. Nucleated settlement sites generally present a different artifactual “signature” than isolated rural sites, lone agricultural installations, graves, or small rural sanctuaries (which often have a particularly distinctive material cultural signature). The overall aim of intensive survey is to build up a picture of a specific landscape in the past, including human activity as a key component, and to understand how that landscape and the relationship of human societies to it changed and developed.

So, what do the raw data look like, and can historians use them? As noted above, most of the finds are ceramics—small fragments of pottery (sherds). Because these are surface finds, they are often very small indeed, and many are very worn, probably because they have been tumbled about in the plowing zone for many centuries. (However, the question of artifact taphonomy—i.e., how an artifact comes to rest where the archaeologist finds it—is much debated in the survey literature, and may result from a complex combination of human activity and geomorphohological processes, e.g., Jameson et al. 1994: 222–23; James et al. 1994.) Most of the time, for any one specific area within a survey, the sherds collected are few in number and often range over a number of periods. This is true even on the “hot spots” of human activity in the landscape, which most survey projects call “sites” (Jameson et al. 1994: 221–22). Even this term is not unproblematic: distinguishing “sites” in areas of heavy “background” scatter can be very difficult (Pettegrew 2001 with responses from Osborne 2001, Fox-hall 2001a, and Bintliff et al. 2002), and some archaeologists have questioned whether the term “site” is even meaningful (Caraher et al 2006; Dunnell 1992) for the interpretation of landscapes. Sites are often occupied in more than one period, and not necessarily continuously—there may be substantial gaps in the habitation record. Archaeologists have long recognized that there can be no straightforward translation of survey data into population or even settlement data for any particular period (Cherry et al. 1991: 327–28).

The key problem for the identification of survey pottery is that material collected on the ground surface usually consists of a mix of periods and has no stratigraphic context as excavated material would. Generally the shapes, decoration, and sequences of fine wares are much better known (from excavated parallels) than for most utilitarian wares. This creates an instant “bias” in data interpretation if we privilege the fine wares (and we thus try not to do so, though that often proves difficult). On many sherds the surface has worn away altogether, and the pottery may then be identifiable only by the fabric (the specific mix of clay and temper of which it is made), if this is sufficiently distinctive (and it may not be). If the surface (especially any surface decoration) survives, it may provide more information. Specific parts of pots, especially rims, bases, and to some extent handles, are also potentially informative and can often be matched with typological sequences of excavated material to determine form and date, and to a limited extent function. Body sherds (the bulk of finds) are usually less informative. However, it is easier to find excavated parallels for some sherds than others since the ceramics of certain periods (e.g., classical antiquity) have been studied in much more detail than for other periods (e.g., early modern household wares).

Nonetheless, survey pottery finds vary considerably in their diagnosticity, and thus in the degree to which we can pin down their date and other attributes. Some distinctive and well-preserved sherds can be pinned down to as narrow a frame as a quarter of a century. Some pottery styles and fabrics are so distinctive that even a very small fragment can be informative, for example, Late Geometric (eighth century BCE) decorated fine wares or Late Roman combed wares or African Red Slip. However, many sherds cannot be dated at all or can be dated only to broad categories such as “prehistoric,” “ancient,” “medieval,” or “early modern.” Most problematic of all for the specific question addressed here is that a great many survey sherds in the Greek world, particularly black-slipped fine wares, can be identified as “classical” in a broad generic sense, but could date to any period between the later Archaic and the Hellenistic periods (ca sixth through third/second centuries BCE). Even where a form can be identified, some shapes in black-slipped wares (e.g., drinking cups such as skyphoi or bowls) may have a very long life span (and the most diagnostic elements may be missing), allowing us to narrow the time frame only to several hundred years, e.g., Archaic-Classical or Classical-Hellenistic. Cherry et al. (1991: 328) state that for the Keos survey data nearly 75% of the sherds of the Archaic through Roman periods (over 1,300 in total) can be dated only to within the several hundred years represented by two ceramic periods (e.g., Archaic-Classical). About 35% can be dated to a single period, but only around 10% (i.e., around 130 sherds) can be dated to within a century (fig. 10-1). It has even been argued that the pottery of some periods (e.g., Prehistoric) appears underrepresented in the survey record because of the abundant archaeological deposition of other, later periods (e.g., Classical-Hellenistic) (Bintliff et al. 1999; Bintliff et al. 2007: 13; Jameson et al. 1994: 223), although this idea has been much contested (Davis 2004).

Obviously such floppy chronologies, useful as they are for investigating long-term changes in landscapes and their exploitation, are not helpful or appropriate for addressing chronologically fine-tuned historical questions, and generally should not be used to do so. An interesting example of this is offered by the Boeotia Survey’s intensive exploration around the city of Thespiai. Tuplin’s detailed analysis of the historical sources has established that sometime between 373/2 and summer 371 BCE the Thebans destroyed Thespiai and removed the population (Tuplin 1986: 337). Whether this was done by expelling them from their land or by mass execution or enslavement is not clear; Tuplin’s preferred solution on the basis of the texts is that the urban center was demolished, the population was moved to small settlements in the countryside, and the polis ceased to exist as a political entity (Tuplin 1986: 325, 339). This situation seems to have continued at least down to the Peace of Philokrates in 346, when it is specifically highlighted as an issue (Dem. 5.10; 19.20–21, 112, 325; cf. Aesch. 2.116, 137; Tuplin 1986: 326). However, this dramatic episode in the history of the polis cannot be detected in the archaeological survey record, and the landscape remained intensively cultivated throughout the period, possibly by deposed Thespians living in the countryside, presumably working for the benefit of the Thebans, during this time (Bintliff et al. 2007: 143). In other words, the archaeological data inform us about the intensity and sometimes the type of land use, but usually provide no information about land tenure or patterns of property ownership.


FIGURE 10-1. Keos Survey: numbers of sherds that can be dated to a single century (Cherry et al. 1991: 331, fig. 17.2). Courtesy of John Cherry, Jack Davis, and the Cotsen Institute.

No chronology based on pottery sequences will have the precision of historical dates in well-understood periods (Cherry et al 1991: 328–31). Worse yet, not all survey projects use the same chronological boundaries for identifying pottery and dating sites, which makes comparing data from different survey projects quite difficult except from a very wide-angle perspective. For the most part, survey projects set a threshold (e.g., five sherds) for positively identifying activity/human presence, sensu lato, during any particular period, but this is hardly an exact science. And, there are many different ways to quantify pottery data (e.g., number of sherds, weight of sherds, the application of scaled quantitative measures to allow for inequalities in length of periods, deposition and visibility at different times in the past, etc.). This is why it is important that historians move beyond just looking at the dots on the maps; they need to understand, as well, precisely on what basis particular sites identified in survey have been dated, and how their function has been interpreted by the archaeologists.

In summary, then, survey tells us an enormous amount about long-term changes in a landscape at a broad level. It is useful for understanding general trends and patterns, and these may both result from large-scale historical processes and have historical implications, but the quality and granulation of the data are such that we cannot push them too far within any specific period. Nonetheless, these broad trends can be usefully deployed to address the question at hand, at least in a limited way.

Survey Data and the Development of the Greek Countryside

This section provides an overview of eight survey projects in Greece, focusing particularly on the data for the Geometric through Hellenistic periods. The data presented are also summarized in table 10-1. As will become clear in the individual subsections, different projects have divided up this time period in slightly different ways, but the data can usefully be compared nonetheless. What emerges is a considerable degree of regional variation in terms of settlement and occupation history within the overall broad trends that appear to apply to almost all areas.

TABLE 10-1




The major, and pioneering, survey project carried out across the rural territories of the cities of Boeotia between 1978 and 1991 is still not fully published, although many important and full publications have appeared. Overall, it is clear that the Geometric occupation was largely restricted to a few key settlements that later became urban sites (Bintliff 1999: 15–18). The sixth century (Late Archaic) appears to be the period when urban sites acquired walls, and a limited amount of activity, possibly dispersed farmsteads in some cases (see below), first appears in the rural territories of these cities (Bintliff 1999: 19). The peak of rural sites (and populations) comes in the fourth century BCE (Bintliff 1999: 23), with a fairly dramatic shrinkage from around 200 BCE (Bintliff 1999: 27). However, it is clear that in the Classical period the distribution of different types and sizes of rural sites (e.g., hamlets/large farm, small isolated farmsteads) varies considerably from one part of Boeotian territory to another (Bintliff et al. 2007: 146–47).

The area south of Thespiai has recently been published in more detail (Bintliff et al. 2007). Between the Late Bronze Age and the Late Geometric period there is almost no evidence of rural settlement, and the earliest documented rural activity is Late Geometric (Bintliff et al. 2007: 173). Geometric-Archaic settlement was largely focused on the center of Thespiai. Ten sites in the southern approaches to the city belonging somewhere in this period are mapped (Bintliff et al. 2007: 132, fig. 9.3) (fig. 10-2). Most of these appear to be hamlets with the occasional sanctuary or cemetery site (Bintliff et al 2007: 131–32, 172–73), but the actual ceramic evidence on which this map is based appears very thin when scrutinized in more depth. From the data helpfully published with the report, it is clear that there is almost no certain Geometric pottery and there are very few certain Archaic sherds per site; of the closely datable material most appears to be sixth century BCE (table 10-2). This contrasts dramatically with the very large numbers of Classical–Hellenistic sherds recovered.

For the Classical period, the authors argue for several “bands” of occupation: a zone of cemeteries on the city’s edge, then a band of large estates or hamlets, then farthest out an area occupied by a few small scattered farms (fig. 10-3). This pattern seems to begin in the Late Archaic period (sixth century BCE) (Bintliff et al. 2007: 132). The cemetery zone appears to be an agglomeration of small family grave plots, not big civic cemeteries (Bintliff et al. 2007: 134). In the next band, the sites are all relatively large and thus seem most likely to be either the headquarters of large, wealthy estates or hamlets with several farming families occupying them. All these sites have easy access to (and from) the city. They are also close to good agricultural land, which, judging from the very heavy background scatter, was extremely intensively exploited in Classical times. The third, outermost group consists of only two examples in this sector of the Boeotian landscape, but other areas in Boeotia Survey territory show many more of these small rural “farmstead” sites (Bintliff et al. 2007: 135–36).


The Keos Survey was carried out in the 1980s in northwest Keos, mostly in what would have been the territory of the Classical city of Koressos, though the eastern sector of the survey area would almost certainly have fallen within the territory of Ioulis. Also included within the survey area was the important prehistoric site of Aghia Irini (Cherry et al. 1991: 5–6). The only significant amount of Protogeometric and Geometric material came from the excavations at Agia Irini where a sanctuary of this period was built over the Bronze Age sanctuary. Few sherds can be dated earlier than the Archaic period (Cherry et al. 1991: 329). Only one single certain Protogeometric (tenth century BCE) sherd was found in the countryside at site 29. All sherds identified as “Geometric” (ninth–eighth century BCE) in the survey, and they are few, are possible but not definite. There is little evidence for any Geometric presence at the polis site of Koressos from either survey or excavation (Cherry et al. 1991: 332) (fig. 10-4).


FIGURE 10-2. Thespiai, southern approaches, Geometric-Archaic sites (Bintliff et al. 2007: 132, fig. 9.3). Courtesy of John Bintliff.

The Archaic period sees a significant increase in activity both in the countryside and at the polis center of Koressos (fig. 10-5). However, almost all the Archaic pottery discovered is later than the seventh century BCE (Cherry et al. 1991: 330), and the great majority of Archaic sherds that can be identified with certainty date to the sixth century (Cherry et al. 1991: 33l, fig. 17.2). It is clear that the overall amount of deposition of sherd material was greater in the Archaic through Hellenistic period than in the Roman period (Cherry et al. 1991: 329). Indeed, the bulk of sherd deposition appears to belong to the Classical–earlier Hellenistic (down to the third century BCE) phase (Cherry et al. 1991: 330–31). However, the Keos authors explain particularly clearly and straightforwardly just how few sherds can be pinned down in date to a precise time period (see above, Cherry et al. 1991: 328–31). There were fewer certain fifth-century BCE sherds than sixth-century sherds, but the sherd total for the fifth century is much higher if the possible fifth century sherds are included (Cherry et al. 1991: 330–31 and fig. 17.2). There is a significant decrease in the number of diagnostic sherds in the fourth and third centuries BCE (Cherry et al. 1991: 331, fig 17.2), and little diagnostic material postdating the third century was found until Late Roman times (Cherry et al. 1991: 330).

TABLE 10-2
Finds from the sites identified as Geometric and Archaic in the southern approaches to Thespiai (derived from data in Bintliff et al. 2007)


Ceramic finds



2A in survey

Small cemetery site ca. 200 m from edge of Classical city. 1981 excavation revealed Late Archaic and Late Classical tombs constructed in two separate phases of use (Bintliff et al. 2007: 69–70).


no certain G or A

“Settlement before the end of the archaic period remains a possibility only” (Bintliff et al. 2007: 73).


1 possible A, no definite

“Its use may just possibly have begun in Late Archaic times” (Bintliff et al. 2007: 79).


1 G?-A

“May conceivably have originated before the end of the Archaic period” (Bintliff et al. 2007: 81).


2 possible A

“‘Possibly beginning in the Archaic period” (Bintliff et al. 2007: 83).


1 G-A; 1 probable G-A; 1 certain A; 6 probable A; 6 possible A; 1 M/L Corinthian-6th c.; 2 Late A/Early C; 1 6th–5th c.

Interpreted as a sanctuary in this period (Bintliff et al. 2007: 44).


aryballos mouth c. 600; 2 A; 6 probable A

Hamlet site that was perhaps already large in the Archaic period (Bintliff et al. 2007: 49).


8 Late A ca. 500 BC; 2 A; 1 Late A-C; 12 probable A

Interpreted as Classical period burial site (Bintliff et al. 2007: 52).


1 A; 1 probable G-A; 7 probable A; 1 probable 6th c.

“Seems likely that main settlement begins during the Archaic period” (Bintliff et al. 2007: 54).


2 G-A; 6 A; 2 probable A; 2 possible A

“Occupation of site must begin at this time [G-A and A]” (Bintliff et al. 2007: 55).


FIGURE 10-3. Thespiai, southern approaches, Classical-Hellenistic sites (Bintliff et al. 2007: 133, fig. 9.4). Courtesy of John Bintliff.

In summary, most of the sites discovered in the countryside appear to have been isolated “farmsteads.” They date mostly to the later Archaic (probably mostly sixth century BCE) and Classical periods, and the numbers decline in the Hellenistic period. Such sites do not appear to have been a feature of this part of the Kean country side before the seventh–sixth century BCE. (Cherry et al. 1991: 336–37).

Southern Argolid

The Southern Argolid Survey was carried out during the 1980s in the southernmost part of the Argolic Peninsula, in the area that would probably have been the rural territory of the Classical cities of Hermion and Halieis, which also included the important prehistoric site of the Franchthi Cave (Jameson et al. 1994: 29–48 and 25, fig. 1.7). After a rich Late Helladic record (Jameson et al. 1994: 236, fig. 4.16) very little early Iron Age (1000–700 BCE) material was found. Only one site with a Protogeomet-ric (1000–900 BCE) component was discovered (Jameson et al. 1994: 236, fig. 4.17, 372), and the same site also has an Early Geometric (900–850 BCE) presence, but of uncertain date (Jameson et al. 1994: 237, fig. 4.18). There are three uncertain and three certain Middle Geometric (850–750 BCE) sites (Jameson et al. 1994: 236, fig. 4.19). Up to twenty-two sites have Late Geometric (750–700/675 BCE) pottery, but many are uncertain in terms of date and site size (Jameson et al. 1994: 238, fig. 4.20). The real boom in rural sites appears in the later Archaic (700/675–480 BCE) and Classical periods (480–338 BCE; forty-two sites documented) and even more in the Late Classical/Early Hellenistic period (350–250 BCE; seventy-five sites): the latter period is defined as a discrete phase in the Southern Argolid Survey (Jameson et al. 1994: 238, fig. 4.21; 239, figs. 4.22 and 4.23; 253, table 4.7). Site numbers decline in the later Hellenistic (250–50 BCE) period.


FIGURE 10-4. Keos Survey, Protogeometric-Geometric sites; no. 35 is Aghia Irini (Cherry et al. 1991: 333, fig. 17.5). Courtesy of John Cherry, Jack Davis, and the Cotsen Institute.


FIGURE 10-5. Keos Survey, Archaic-Classical sites; no. 7 is Koressos, the polis site (Cherry et al. 1991: 334, fig. 17.6). Courtesy of John Cherry, Jack Davis, and the Cotsen Institute.

Site locations also change somewhat in different periods. Generally 25%–30% of all sites are located within 500 m of the coast, with the exception of the Geometric and Medieval periods, times when security may have been more of an issue (Jameson et al. 1994: 257 and 245, table. 4.4). During the Geometric period only small sites appear to have existed, and in Late Geometric a couple of medium-size sites (Jameson et al. 1994: 252 and 238, fig. 4.20). The overall settlement pattern for the Protogeometric–Late Geometric/Subgeometric phase is interpreted as nucleated, each area of the landscape having one dominant nucleated site. During the Archaic-Hellenistic period dispersed settlement around urban centers (Jameson et al. 1994: 253–54, table 4.8; 374–83) characterized the countryside. The Late Classical/Early Hellenistic (350–250 BCE) is singled out as the period with the largest number of sites, especially small rural sites (Jameson et al. 1994: 383–85). A preference for fertile valley bottoms for settlement sites appears in Geometric times; but valley slopes and rolling hills in are preferred locations in the Classical through Middle Roman phases (Jameson et al. 1994: 257–58, 373). The settlement and exploitation of thin soils and “marginal” lands began only in the Classical period, not earlier (Jameson et al. 1994: 258).


The Methana Peninsula is located at the top of the Argolic Peninsula, just to the east and north of Epidauros and Troezen (Mee and Forbes 1997). The Methana Survey was carried out during the 1980s. Protogeometric pottery of the Early Iron Age (1050–700 BCE) appears at the three key settlement sites (fig. 10-6). Two of these are villages: MS69 (Ogha) and its related sanctuary at MS68, and MS60 (Maghoula). The other settlement eventually became the polis center of Methana (MS10). All these settlements are located within easy reach of the sea and good agricultural land (Gill and Foxhall 1997: 57). In this period settlement was clearly nucleated, and land was exploited from villages. During the Archaic period (600–480 BCE) six sites in total were occupied, and the three main sites grew substantially and continued to dominate their respective sectors of the peninsula. Limited exploitation of the Plain of Throni and the interior begin, but only in areas of excellent agricultural land. There is also an increase in the number of rural sanctuaries (Gill and Foxhall 1997: 57–59). The Classical period shows (480–323 BCE) twenty-two certain sites (but a Classical component appears on forty-eight) (fig. 10-7).

The growth of the polis center (MS10) as the main site of the peninsula occurs at this time. There is now also an increase in the number of isolated rural sites, which appear to date largely to the last third of fifth century BCE and generally seem to have been very short-lived. For the first time there is substantial exploitation of marginal areas and less good agricultural land. During the fourth century BCE fewer rural sites appear, many in small clusters, and none are located more than 200 m above sea level (Gill, Foxhall, and Bowden 1997: 62–67). There are twenty-eight certain Hellenistic (323–100 BCE) sites, and fifty-four sites have a Hellenistic component. Of these, 40% lack a Classical component, suggesting some reorganization of settlement, perhaps in connection with the role of the peninsula as a Ptolemaic base. Overall, fewer Hellenistic than Classical sherds were identified. Most Hellenistic sites remain within 500 m of the sea, and as in the Classical period, they are concentrated on the western side of peninsula, where the polis site is located. However, there is also a significant concentration of sites at altitudes over 600 m above sea level. The main urban site (MS10) appears to shrink slightly while both village sites (MS67 and MS60) shrink dramatically (Gill, Foxhall, and Bowden 1997: 69–71).



FIGURE 10-6. Methana, Early Iron Age and Archaic sites (Gill and Foxhall 1997: 58, figs. 5.1 and 5.2).


The Berbati-Limnes Survey was carried out in the Berbati Valley, the fertile plain to the east of Mycenae, and the contrasting upland area around Limnes Village (Wells 1996). Only one possible Protogeometric sherd (tenth century?) was recovered, in addition to two excavated graves, one Early Geometric and the other Middle Geometric, already known from the area. Otherwise nothing was found dating to the period between the twelfth century BCE and the middle of the eighth century BCE (Wells 1996: 177). Geometric and Archaic material appears at twelve find spots; nine of these have material of the eighth century BCE, nine have material of the seventh and sixth centuries BCE, and four have material from all three centuries (Ekroth 1996: 214–15, figs. 33 and 34) (fig. 10-8). Find spots 20 and 24 form the core of the most important Geometric settlement in the Berbati Valley and contain the only definite Late Geometric I material; other find spots (7, 18) appear to be related to this settlement. In Late Geometric II, occupation spread from find spots 20–24 to two additional locations: the Phytesoumia spur with five find spots, and the area around the hill of Ag. Athenasios. All these areas continued to be inhabited into the seventh and sixth centuries BCE. Late sixth- and early fifth-century BCE material is largely missing from the Berbati Valley assemblage, although occasional Late Archaic sherds appear at existing settlements (Ekroth 1996: 213). The mountainous Limnes area remained unoccupied during the Geometric–Archaic period, but there is some thin background sherd scatter, particularly along the ancient road (Ekroth 1996: 215).


FIGURE 10-7. Methana, Classical sites (Gill, Foxhall, and Bowden 1997: 64, fig. 6.1).


FIGURE 10-8. Berbati-Limnes Survey. Geometric-Archaic find spots (Wells 1996: 214, fig 13). Courtesy of the Swedish Institute at Athens.

Activity during the Classical and Hellenistic periods is documented at thirty find spots in Berbati, with an additional five in the rugged Limnes area (Penttinen 1996: 229) (fig. 10-9). There are thirteen definite fifth-century BCE sites, with some activity documented at another four. Most are located in the north-central part of the valley to the north of the main road between modern Nekrotapheion and the Roman bath. Find spot 426 in the far west of the survey area was occupied, and the slopes to the west of Kephalari remma appear to have been being visited at this time. The peak of settlement activity appears in the late fourth–early third centuries BCE, and a new pattern of settlement seems to emerge at this time. New sites increase the settlement density around Nekrotapheion. Sites on both sides of Kephalari remma at 300 m above sea level now begin to appear. Smaller clusters of sites appear to the west of Mastos, close to modern Panaghia. In the Limnes area the development of settlement is slightly different. Find spot 42 at Vigliza was probably permanently occupied, but find spots 309 and 307 appear on inaccessible mountain slopes. From the second century BCE there is a general decline in the number of sites (Penttinen 1996: 271 and 272, table 1).


The area of the Laconia Survey covers the approximate center of the territory of ancient Sparta (Cavanagh et al. 2002: 1). The only evidence of activity during the Early Iron Age (1050–700 BCE) appears at the cult centers of Zeus Messapeus and the Menelaion, and is limited to the very end of the eighth century BCE. Nothing earlier appears in the rural territory (Catling 2002: 153), though there is material from Sparta itself. The Early Archaic period (700–600) remains a blank apart from the same two sanctuaries, and there is no indication of agricultural exploitation of anything except the best agricultural land on the plain (Catling 2002: 156).

The later Archaic and Early Classical period (600–450 BCE) sees a shift from nucleated settlement to widely dispersed small and medium-size rural sites. However, very little of the material recovered is earlier than the mid-sixth century BCE, and much dates from the second half of the sixth century (Catling 2002: 157). At least eighty-seven definite sites appear in this period, and nine new sanctuaries. Some evidence for later Archaic-Classical activity appears on seventy-two further sites (Catling 2002: 160–61). Almost all of these (74%) are small sites, but there is a small group of seventeen larger sites (19%), which could be high-status rural habitations or large farms, and six (19%), appear to be villages, small towns, and in one case a fortress (Catling 2002: 161–63). When the was area settled in the second half of the sixth century BCE, there was a discernible preference for occupation of the most fertile and easily worked soils (Catling 2002: 171–72), and avoidance of upland areas even in this peak period of rural occupation.


FIGURE 10-9. Berbati-Limnes Survey. Classical-Hellenistic find spots (Wells 1996: 274, fig 37). Courtesy of the Swedish Institute at Athens.

The Classical period (450–300 BCE) sees a sharp reduction in the total number of habitation sites, from about mid-fifth century BCE (Catling 2002: 184, 225). However, there is a concomitant trend toward increased site size, so this perhaps indicates a more nucleated phase. The eighty-seven habitation sites of Late Archaic times go down to forty-six over the Classical period; small farmsteads decline from sixty-four to twenty-seven (74% to 57%). Larger farms decline from seventeen to ten (20% to 23%); and there is a rise in village/hamlet sites from four to seven (5% to 16%), as well as two large sites (Catling 2002: 175–78). Sites continue to concentrate in the areas of the best soils (Catling 2002: 182–84). During the Hellenistic period (third–first centuries BCE) forty-eight definite and twenty-seven probable sites can be identified, although in this area the Hellenistic ceramic repertoire is less diagnostic than for the Archaic–Classical periods (Shipley 2002: 257, 260–61).


The Pylos Survey was conceived in part as a “follow-on” from the Minnesota Messenia Expedition Survey (Alcock 2001: 190; Alcock et al. 2005). It was carried out by Jack Davis, Susan Alcock, and others in western Messenia, to the north and east of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos in 1991–95. Substantial reports have been published in Hesperia (Davis et al. 1997; Zangger et al. 1997; Alcock et al. 2005), and the project is also well published online at, including a full site gazetteer and pottery and small finds databases (though these are unedited and have not been updated since data entry in the field).

Very little material dating to the Submycenaean-Geometric range was discovered, and according to the published pottery report only three sites produced more than three certain sherds in the Geometric-Archaic range (Davis et al. 1997: 452–53). During the Archaic-Classical phase (seventh–fourth centuries BCE) there was a substantial increase in settlement and exploitation. But the investigators note the relative scarcity of Classical material, and the lack of evidence for small, dispersed rural farmsteads, suggesting that this might be a result of the Spartan domination on the region (Davis et al. 1997: 455–56; Alcock 2001: 195, fig. 13.2, 196–98; Alcock et al. 2005: 166–71). Indeed, the Archaic and Classical presence was substantially focused in one sector of the survey area (Area VI), which may well have been a sizable ancient village under the modern village of Romanou (Alcock 2001: 194–95 and fig. 13.3; Alcock et al. 2005: 163), and larger sites seem to have been the norm in this region (Alcock et al. 2005: 166–67). Not entirely surprisingly, the peak of occupation occurred in the Hellenistic period, after the liberation of Messenia (Davis et al. 1997: 456–57; Alcock 2001: 193). As in the case of the Boeotia Survey, it is possible to look directly at the raw ceramic data for activity/occupation in different periods (table 10-3, compiled using the unedited online pottery database, which may not be entirely accurate). It is clear from the sparse pottery finds that there is little evidence for substantial levels of settlement in the region before the seventh–sixth centuries BCE.


The recent survey on the island of Kythera undertaken by Cyprian Broodbank and Evangelia Kyriatzi has not yet been fully published. The excellent project website ( clearly explains the sampling strategy and methodology, and presents preliminary results of data analysis. The project has discovered over two hundred sites. In the post–Bronze Age phases, Kythera shows a huge rise in site numbers during the Classical period, but only very small numbers of sites were occupied during the Archaic period. There is no evidence for Protogeometric or Geometric period occupation of rural sites (

TABLE 10-3
Finds from the sites in the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project identified as Dark Age through Archaic based on the unedited online pottery database at


Ceramic finds


E01 Romanou Glyfadaki

3 G-A; 15 A

Most material on the site is later Hellenistic and domestic in character.

I01 Koryfasio Beylerby

4 LH3-G; 9 Dark Age; 2 G; 10 G-A


I04 Romanou Romanou

1 LPG-G; 2 Dark Age; 1 PG-G; 4 G; 9 G-A; 23 A; 2 A?


M02 Gargliani Kalantina

6 G-A; 1 A?


Survey Data and the Development of the Polis Countryside

It is clear from the discussion of the survey data above that there are some common trends in the rural settlement record across Greece. Strikingly, the Iron Age through the Late Geometric period is a low point in the settlement record virtually everywhere in Greece. In many areas there is almost no record of any activity after the Bronze Age until the Late Geometric (c. 750–700 BCE) period, and even at that point the evidence is very thin in most places. Small nucleated settlements appear to be usual, generally located in proximity to the best agricultural land. Excavation evidence confirms this conclusion (e.g., Lathouriza: Lauter 1985, Mazarakis Ainian 1994; Zagora: Cambitoglou et al. 1971, 1988; Oropos: Mazarakis Ainian 1998). Certainly there is no evidence of substantial levels of dispersed rural settlement anywhere in Greece during the eighth century; indeed the Greek countryside appears to have been quite empty at this time. Another common trend is that movement onto “marginal” sloping land, whether for habitation or for agricultural exploitation, is relatively late everywhere, and generally coincides with settlement peaks occurring well after the Archaic period.

Beyond these basic common trends there is a considerable amount of regional variation in the development of different Greek countrysides in their specific polis settings, and even within the territory of any particular polis. These variations between poleis are clearly linked to different trajectories of historical development. The cases of Laconia (where rural settlement peaked early in the late sixth–early fifth centuries BCE), and Pylos (where dispersed rural settlement was largely absent before the Hellenistic peak) make this particularly clear, intertwined as they both are with the very particular development of Sparta as a polis, and its distinctive mode of domination over the southern and southwestern Peloponnese.

In most (but not all) Greek countrysides, dispersed rural settlement, consisting of a range of different kinds of sites (including graves and small sanctuaries), becomes characteristic at some point between the second half of the sixth and the third centuries BCE, at periods when the urban centers themselves are also densely populated. However, as the Boeotian case of Thespiai shows, it would be simplistic to interpret all of these as small isolated farmsteads belonging to the same sociopolitical group within the polis. It is plain that a range of “farmsteads” at different scales is likely to be represented, and distinguishing a single large “farmstead” from a cluster of smaller “farmsteads” using surface survey techniques alone is often not possible. In addition, the “sites” recovered reveal only the headquarters of a “farm”: it is likely in the majority of instances that the landholdings worked by the inhabitants would have included plots not directly adjacent to the structure itself (Osborne 198;, 2001; Foxhall 2001a, 2001b: 213). One of the things most difficult for archaeologists to judge is where the inhabitants of the sites revealed by surveys belong in the socioeconomic spectrum (Osborne 2004: 168–70). It may well be the case that even with the smallest sites we are not picking up the poorest farmers in the archaeological record at all, and that almost all of the “farmsteads” discovered belonged to relatively prosperous proprietors, with sufficient material goods to make an impact on disposal patterns. Slaves are certainly largely invisible, and even Morris and Pappadopoulos (2005) struggle to make a case for their presence on rural sites of the Classical period. On the other hand, wealth and poverty are relative, and some periods are clearly much wealthier overall in terms of the material goods, especially ceramics, that are available to a wide range of people, and which ultimately end up in the landscape.

That the peak of rural settlement varies so much in date from one area to another strongly suggests that dispersed habitation in the countryside may not have had much to do with widespread political changes or innovations in any one period, so establishing its link to a purported “hoplite revolution” across Greece is almost impossible. Rather, expansion (or decline) of dispersed rural settlement and changes in the exploitation of the countryside visible in the archaeological record are likely to be related to specific local factors. It is clear from the examples of Lakonia and Messenia that long-term political configurations may have had significant impact on the shaping of rural landscapes. However, it is probable that in most cases broadly socioeconomic factors and trends were most important (rather than overtly and narrowly political ones)—namely, those factors related most closely to the changing wealth and fortunes of the individual households that exploited the land. The patterns we see on the ground are likely to be the agglomeration of the activities and decisions of many different, individual households. Survey data generally provide no information about land tenure (Foxhall 2001b: 213–14), and a number of different land tenure arrangements could have produced the same archaeological patterns. Given the varied constitutions and political structures of the different poleis represented in the survey data, it may be remarkable that, beyond the differences in date, there is so much similarity in these patterns of dispersed rural settlement when they occur. The underlying causes, of course, need not be the same in every case. However, what this broad similarity might suggest is that the fundamental relationship of households with land held as private property was very deep-seated in Greek culture, documented in texts from as far back as Hesiod’s Works and Days. In periods when investment in the countryside and pressure on land increased for whatever reasons (e.g., increased wealth, increasing population, additional sources of labor), individual households tried to make the most of the land to which they had access. Sometimes they might have carved out new cultivable lands where they had the means to invest in doing so. However, it is plain from the survey data discussed here that, except in periods when the best lands were densely settled, “marginal” hilly and mountainous lands and areas of poor soils were not intensively exploited or even occupied.


Where does this leave us with hoplites and the origin of the phalanx? For a start, the archaeological evidence strongly suggests that the Hanson hypothesis of an eighth-century move to dispersed agricultural settlement and the exploitation of “marginal” hillslopes and “eschatiai” is incorrect. The available archaeological data positively contradict this model. As van Wees (this volume) points out, practically all of the evidence that Hanson uses to support this view is derived from later periods, so that the picture he paints is anachronistic. Farmers in the eighth century appear to have lived in nucleated villages for the most part, using them as a base for cultivating the best agricultural land, generally located relatively close to these settlements. The evidence from archaeological surveys for this period is inadequate to produce even a very crude settlement hierarchy.

It is not until well into the sixth century in most parts of Greece that activity in the countryside becomes visible in any kind of meaningful way. However, even then, the extent of occupation and intensity of use is quite low in most places; Sparta seems to be somewhat exceptional in this regard. If we are looking for “the rise of the small independent farmer” (van Wees, this volume), we may not find him here either. There is no straightforward or easy way of mapping political structures such as the Solonian property classes, known from historical sources, onto the settlement hierarchies derived from archaeological data (although that has not stopped scholars from trying, e.g., Bintliff et al. 2007: 147–51). (And this is assuming that the production units associated with the Solonian property classes are correct—the “500 bushels” of the pentakosiomed-imnoi is, of course, the only one that is absolutely certain because it is embedded in the name: Foxhall 1997.) Even in periods of intensive exploitation of the countryside from dispersed residential sites, as appears in many regions from the later sixth through third centuries BCE, we do not know for certain that we are seeing “the small independent farmer” on the ground. And this is a period when we know from written and iconographic sources that the citizen-hoplite was unquestionably well established in many places. Archaeologically documented “farmsteads” certainly vary in size and scale of production, and rural settlement is not uniform throughout the countryside. But could we tell whether these “farmsteads” were operated by small independent farmers? The example of the takeover of Thespian land by the Boeotians in the mid-fourth century, cited above, suggests that we cannot necessarily distinguish dependents from owner-occupiers in the archaeological record (Bintliff et al. 2007: 143).

I suggest that we are seeing different things in the archaeological and historical records. The written sources (and even the iconographic sources) primarily show us male individuals, often working together, but portrayed specifically as citizens, soldiers, and property owners. The archaeological data reveal households and their collective activities, not “homesteaders” or proprietors as individuals. The archaeological landscape that we see in the data is the aggregate pattern formed by the decisions and activities of many households. What it does show is a widespread engagement by the inhabitants of a polis with the agricultural landscape as property-working units (whether they were always property owners or not is another question) in, broadly speaking, later Archaic and Classical times. This creates an archaeological signature that is quite distinguishable from different ways of working the landscape visible in other periods (e.g., Roman and Late Roman phases; see Foxhall 2004). If this is correct, then it is hardly surprising that we cannot find individuals as “hoplite fighters,” or even the origins of the phalanx, in the landscape data.


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