Iklaina (Grèce): How an unknown monumental palace rewrites ancient Greek history
Massive buildings, early writing show Iklaina wasn't a backwater as thought, but a center of Mycenaean rule that was destroyed by the Palace of Nestor
Source - http://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/1.768416Aerial view of Iklaina: This palace dating to around 3400 years ago shows the city was no backwater, as had been thought, but a powerful Mycaenean-era capital in competition with the Palace of Nestor - Michael Cosmopoulos
Monumental discoveries in Iklaina, including an open-air pagan sanctuary, have reinforced the view that this ancient Greek town was no backwater as had been thought, but a major center of Mycenaean culture – that throws back the formation of the earliest complex states in ancient Greece by hundreds of years.
Iklaina was made legendary by Homer's Iliad, which romanticizes the town's war with Troy. Until now the town, which indeed dates to the Mycenaean period (1500 to 1100 B.C.E.), had been considered to be something of a backwater. Evidently, it wasn't.
The true lofty status of ancient Iklaina now coming to light is based on discovery of a monumental palace and other massive buildings that apparently served as administrative centers; a tablet with the earliest-known government record in Europe, discovered in 2011; and newly uncovered sprawling public spaces such as the sanctuary, the archaeologists explain.
Complex states feature centralized political administration, specialized administrative organization, complex social ranking, advanced economic organization, and formalized institutions. If until now, the earliest complex state in ancient Greece had been thought to have arisen around 3,100 years ago, the evidence from Iklaina indicates that the complex states were taking form as long as 3,400 years ago, though that was thousands of years after these forms of government began to arise in Mesopotamia, going by the solid evidence.
“It appears that Iklaina was the capital of an independent state for a good part of the Mycenaean period, in competition with the other major site in the area, the Palace of Nestor in Pylos,” says Prof. Michael Cosmopoulos of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, head of the excavations.
Apparently, Iklaina was ultimately vanquished by that next-door bitter rival. It was destroyed by enemy attack at the same time that the Palace of Nestor expanded, Cosmopoulos explains: "It appears that the two events were connected, and that it was the ruler of the Palace of Nestor who took over Iklaina."
The excavations at Iklaina brought to light massive walls, several administrative buildings, open-air shrine, murals, a surprisingly advanced drainage system with massive stone-built sewers, and an elaborate water delivery system with clay pipes that was far ahead of its time. The tablet the Iklaina archaeologists discovered, which they believe to be 3400 to 3500 years old, also throws back the advent of widespread literacy across this region of the eastern Mediterranean Basin.
The legend of Nestor
Page from the Iliad, XIV,227–253,256–263, written on papyrus in Greek. Wikimedia Commons
Nestor is one of the main figures in the Homeric tale of Troy. After King Menelaos' beautiful wife Helene was abducted by the Trojan prince Paris, who also plundered the palace treasures while about it, the king set out to gain revenge, first turning to his brother, the powerful king of Mycenae, Agamemnon.
The two together went to plead before the old king Nestor, the most experienced of all humans, because he had seen two generations sink into the grave and now reigned with unbroken force over the third. Nestor willingly helped the two brothers muster allies among the Greek lords and heroes.
There is no archaeological evidence of Nestor to back the Homeric writings, but Cosmopoulos does not rule him out as a historical figure.
“Quite a bit of what is described in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey is based on the historical reality of the Mycenaean world: this applies to artifacts described by Homer, to citadels like Mycenae and Pylos, which archaeologists have found," he says.
That said, Homer wrote his epics about 400 years after the Mycenaeans. The epics therefore contain anachronisms, elements contemporary to Homer which did not exist in the Mycenaean period, for example the use of iron or cremating the dead, Cosmopoulos explains.
The so-called "Palace of Nestor" in Pylos, some 10 kilometers from Iklaina, may or may not have housed the legendary wise king, but it definitely was a major palace of the Mycenaean period. The Pylos site has yielded over 1,000 Linear B tablets containing government records, dating 150 to 200 years later than the Iklaina tablet.
At the grand Palace of Nestor, Pylos, just 10km from Iklaina. Olecorre, Wikimedia Commons
Giant Cyclopean Terrace
Eight years of excavations ending in late 2016 unearthed more of an enormous building that the archaeologist labeled the Cyclopean Terrace, which dominates the entire site. The terrace consists of worked limestone boulders fitted roughly together, with smaller chunks placed between them.
(The ancients coming some generations after the walls had been built did not believe that such massive structures could have been built by humans, but had to have been the work of gigantic beings such as the Cyclops. The term “Cyclopean” has come to refer to that particular type of Mycenaean large-scale architecture.)
Whoever built it, the massive Cyclopean Terrace had supported a two- or three-storey building. Unfortunately, the part of the building that once stood on the terrace (as with the stepped-stone structure in the City of David in Jerusalem) is gone forever. However, rooms of the same building complex survive on the plateau to the south, which give a good idea of the date and function of this Cyclopean Terrace complex.
In theory the massive structure could be a Mycenaean temple or fortress, Cosmopoulos admits, but analysis of the finds led him to conclude that it was a powerful palace or administrative center.
Fragment (right) of an ancient Greek wall painting at a site in Iklaina: The earliest naval representation from the Greek Mainland. Michael Cosmopolous
"It appears that it was the buildings where the ruler and his family resided, part of the 'administrative center' of the site. It was built sometime between 1350 and 1300 B.C.E.," Cosmopoulos told Haaretz.
No massive structure like this, the construction of which required abundant resources and a great capacity to plan and execute, would have been built in an out-of-the-way and remote settlement. These buildings are monumental and formal, and suggest that Iklaina was the capital of an independent state for a long part of the Mycenaean period – before such states were thought to exist in ancient Greece.