Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.06.38

Nikos Merouses, Chios. Physiko periballon & katoikese apo te neolithike epoche mechri to telos tes archaiothtas.   Chios:  Papyros, 2002.  Pp. 240; ills., maps.  ISBN 960-87298-0-7.  

Reviewed by Maria Papaioannou, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton (
Word count: 2699 words

One of the major obstacles in the study of the archaeology of Chios was the absence of a collective work presenting the major archaeological finds and research of the island. Nikos Merouses' book, Chios. Natural Environment & Habitation from the Neolithic Age to the end of Antiquity, has filled this lacuna and is therefore a welcome addition to the field of scholarly research. The author presents a collective and scientific study of human settlements on the island, including the small neighboring islands of Oinousses and Psara. This book therefore not only serves as a useful tool for both students and scholars wishing to familiarize themselves with the remains of the island, but it also proves to be an excellent guide for anyone interested in a more detailed historical and archaeological account. With the assistance of E. Gialouris' doctoral thesis, which provides a catalogue of known archaeological sites on the island up to 1970, and the subsequent works of the Greek Archaeological Service (G.A.S.) and foreign schools working on the island, Merouses presents a summary of previous scholarship, as well as a current catalogue of sites and a selective analysis of the archaeological material from Neolithic times to Late Antiquity. The author focuses on the main elements that characterize human settlement on the island: the environment, economy, agriculture, population and physical remains. Moreover, he re-examines problems presented in previous investigations on the basis of recent discoveries, and does not fail to highlight the shortcomings and problems that arise from such a collective study. The fragmentary nature and sheer volume of material remains make interpretation complex and problematic; consequently, questions that arise cannot all be answered and must therefore, as Merouses emphasizes, be left for future archaeological research to solve.

The book is divided into three primary parts and five main chapters, each subdivided into sections. The first part focuses on the local environment and the economic livelihood of the island, primarily animal husbandry and agriculture, by drawing from ethnographic parallels and data collected from the Middle Ages to the present. For the island of Chios in antiquity, however, there is no comparable study. Part two presents a brief history of archaeological and scholarly research on the island, while part three discusses human settlements in chronological order.

In chapter one Merouses provides a brief account of the island's geography and physical environment and presents the history of human occupation. He attempts to reconstruct ancient farming practices --agriculture and animal husbandry -- by examining the literary and epigraphical evidence, and by providing ethnographic comparanda focusing on pre-WWII cultivation practices. Moreover, although Merouses wisely cautions against reconstructing the natural environment in antiquity using medieval/modern parallels,1 he later draws upon modern parallels in order to evaluate the island's water sources in antiquity and concludes that they were restricted in ancient times.

In chapter two Merouses identifies the important ancient sites, ports, and port cities and arterial routes by examining the ancient sources (Strabo 14.1.35; Livy 36.43; 44.28.15) and archaeological evidence. He emphasizes the problems presented by the long-term changes in the landscape, citing as an example Emporeios, a site occupied since prehistoric times and once located at a greater distance from the coast than it is today. Merouses also makes a number of important observations on the ancient arterial routes of the island, which he suggests can be identified by examining the locations of numerous ancient farmhouses and the line of the modern routes that often follow ancient paths. He observes, for example, that along the modern Ellenostrata Route that runs through Mt. Aipos and connects the northern and southern regions of the island, many farmhouses have been identified, including the most significant site located at Phardy Pegadi, in the region of Mt. Aipos.

In chapter three he provides a brief account of the history of archaeological research and investigation on the island beginning with Chiou Ktisis of Ion the Chian, (490-422 BC). He highlights the weak points of these earlier studies as well as their contributions to our knowledge of the history and archaeology of Chios. The texts of Argentis and Kyriakides, for example, relied on the eighth- to twentieth- century accounts of geographers and travelers; consequently much of the information is incorrect and often enhanced with mythological elements. The first large-scale systematic excavations, surface surveys and underwater investigations of the island were conducted by the British School (1952-55); consequently most of our knowledge from Neolithic to Roman periods is compiled from these investigations. Moreover, Gialouris' catalogue is of prime significance, as are the recent salvage excavations conducted by the G.A.S., primarily in the area of the Chora, from the 1970s to the present.

In chapter four Marouses examines prehistoric Chios from the Neolithic period to the end of the Bronze Age. He includes a catalogue of sites followed by a brief description of the settlements (Hagios Galas, Emporeio), as well as an overview of the problems associated with the study of prehistoric sites on the island that he attributes to the absence of intensive surveys and destruction of sites both by nature and by man. Our limited knowledge of the period, particularly in respect to the size, lifespan, and spatial organization of these settlements, is a problem well worth noting. More importantly, he highlights the need for an interdisciplinary research program that will carry out an intensive survey of the island -- of the type conducted at Melos and Kea, for example -- in order to map the extent of human activity on the island from prehistoric to modern times. Such information will shed light on the organization of space, interactions between settlements, and man's exploitation of the natural environment. Merouses, moreover, makes an important observation concerning the widely accepted view of the absence of human occupation on the island during the Middle Bronze Age (2300/200 --1600 BC), a date formulated on evidence restricted to Minoan-type and Minoan ceramics, as well as a small amount of Minyan ware found at Emporeios. This absence of evidence, according to the author, is a reflection of the limited number of excavated sites not only on the island of Chios but also in general in the northern Aegean.

Three sections follow the introduction to chapter four: one on the cave dwelling at Hagio Galas (Neolithic and Early Bronze Age), a second on the settlement and necropolis of Emporeios and a third on the settlement and necropolis at Archontiki, Psara. For the site at Emporeios, Merouses provides an excellent review of the previous scholarship on the early occupation of the settlement (fifth millenium BC to the eleventh century BC) and discusses the layout of the town, the domestic plans and the social fabric of this site. According to the established view, there were no social distinctions within the settlement: inhabitants enjoyed an equal distribution of wealth derived from agriculture and livestock farming (p. 80). This is a widely accepted theory formulated on the absence of any noticeable distinction between one house and another during the third millennium; these domestic units reflect a uniformity both in the size and in the types of objects found within them. However, the author needs to bring to the attention of the reader the difficulty associated with formulating theories of social hierarchy based on the study of the surviving remains and contents of households; for example, objects of intrinsic value (bronze, gold, silver, etc.) would not have been left behind. In the final section of chapter four Merouses focuses on the excavations conducted by the G.A.S. on the neighboring island of Psara between 1916 and 1999. He examines the cemetery of Archontariki (cist tombs cut into soft cliffs) that functioned for around 250-300 years (LH IIIA1-2, LHIIIB and early phases of LHIIIC) as well as the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age settlements of Archontariki and Daskalio.

In chapter five, which is divided into six sections, Merouses discusses the historical sites from the Geometric period to the end of antiquity. In section one he comments on the significance of the excavations conducted in the past decades by the G.A.S., which have brought to light remains from the eleventh to the eighth centuries, a phase that was once considered the Dark Ages.2 He discusses the social, economic and ideological changes that occurred during this period, such as the synoecism of the asty of Chios, and the transformation from kingship to aristocratic rule, or perhaps even to tyranny, between the middle of the eighth and the beginning of the seventh centuries BC. References to oligarchy or possibly even to an early form of democracy may be deduced from the rhytra of Chios (575-550 BC). Merouses suggests that the megaron at Emporeios, which ceased to function around 600 BC, may be associated with the political changes mentioned in the inscription.3 In section two Merouses comments on the difficulties that arise in identifying and locating the sites mentioned in the ancient sources and the limitations that exist in interpreting the material evidence (p.108). On account of the fragmentary nature of the remains, surface finds and archaeological sites can only be dated to a broad period. The Roman period, for example, covers a phase of three to four centuries, and current evidence does not permit any further refinements in chronology. Moreover, most of the material for the Roman period comes from the southern end of the island, from three major sites (Phana-Emporeios-Pintakas and Chora) and consequently we are provided with a selective image of the Roman period confined only to this region. The author also brings to our attention the absence of information concerning the organization of the cities and the relationship between the scattered farm houses, cities and towns. He discusses the farm houses of the classical period, those isolated or situated next to cities for seasonal use, and raises questions concerning their ownership and the role played by the landowners in the overall social fabric of the island. For example, were they owned by wealthy landowners, by local asty rulers, or by small landholders or tribes? In section three Merouses discusses the demographics of the island and agrees with Phragkomichales, who suggests a total population (freedmen and slaves) of around 126,000 for the fifth and fourth centuries BC. The majority must have lived in the asty, as suggested by the extensive remains of the necropoli and the limited physical evidence in the countryside.

In section four, he presents the settlement and cemetery of the city of Chios, the asty, focusing on the recent activities of the G.A.S. over the past thirty-nine years, between the 1970s and 2000s. He discusses the layout of the city and includes two color- coded maps that display the findspots of most of the architectural remains and four maps that indicate the extent of the necropoli and city limits from archaic to Roman times. Furthermore, the author also includes an extensive catalogue that provides brief identifications, dates, modern locations and bibliographies of the finds. This is an important tool for students and scholars. Moreover, in this section he includes a historical account of the archaeological research of the ancient city of Chios and highlights the contributions and shortcomings of the work of the nineteenth-century Chian historian Zolotas and his daughter Aimilia Sarou, who contributed significant information concerning the city walls, harbor and cemeteries. However, since the locations of these finds were based on toponyms that no longer exist, locating the remains is a challenge.

Evidence comprising small finds, burials and architectural elements confirms the continuous occupation of the asty from Prehistoric (Neolithic/ Mycenaean) to Roman times. During the archaic and classical periods the city was divided into three zones: the coastal zone for houses and sanctuaries, the middle zone for the industrial area and the northern section for the cemetery. Within the city, terracotta workshops, sanctuaries, the city's harbor/s, water cistern, remains of the city's wall, aqueduct, theatre and fragmentary architectural elements of various public and private structures have been identified. The city's basic topographical divisions remained constant throughout antiquity. The only drastic changes occurred in the area of Kofina, which was transformed from a workshop area of the archaic and classical periods into a cemetery in the first century AC. During the hellenistic period there was an increase in the population, as indicated by the number of tombs found in the hellenistic or southern cemetery, which was four times larger than the archaic cemetery. Evidence suggests that the settlement shifted toward the south and expanded along the coastline, while necropoli framed the city to the north, south and west. The ancient city center, with its domestic units, agora, temples and private structures, is located today beneath the modern city.

In section five Merouses discusses the site of Emporeios (the acropolis, megaron, Temple of Athena and settlement) as well as the Delphinion. He reviews previous scholarship (Boardman, Mazarakis-Ainian and Held) and also provides some new insights. He questions, for example, Mazarakis-Ainian's identification of the megaron with the residence of the local archon, on the grounds that there are no artifacts that confirm such a function. The subsequent discussion of the Temple of Athena on the Acropolis is accompanied by an excellent colored plan, site images and reconstruction. Merouses emphasizes the significance of this settlement to the study of late geometric housing, and how the results of the excavated remains have shed light on the utilization of the landscape and on the social organization of this society. The author concludes this section with an account of the site of Delphinion, a closed type of coastal settlement, where recent work by the G.A.S mainly focuses on a later farm house of the second century BC. Section six, which is of particular interest, deals with the excavations by the G.A.S. and the University of Athens at the Oropaideio of Aipossites and at Pintaka. These sites were occupied from the fifth century BC and contained the remains of farmhouses consisting of stone mounds, a peribolos wall of around 270 m in diameter, a dwelling, a water cistern, and a cultivated area/garden. Merouses observes that social and political reasons possibly forced the poor landless populations into this region, which appears to have been one of apparent strategic significance. All land routes, for example, from the Chora to the north and northeast of the island ran through this area; whoever controlled these routes ensured the safety of the Chora. In the final section of chapter five Merouses presents the sanctuaries of Chios located at Daskalopetra, Nagos, the harbor of Emporeios and the sanctuary of Apollo at Phania. He provides a brief account of the remains and presents current scholarship and excavation reports. At the sanctuary of the port of Emporeios (dedicated to Artemis or perhaps Hera), for example, there is evidence for the use of the area as a sacred space from the ninth century BC, or perhaps even earlier. For the sanctuary of Apollo, initially occupied in the Early Bronze Age, Merouses presents the more recent work at the site by Bumeaumont-Archondidou (1999) that focuses on the peribolos wall and the quarries, where it is believed that a settlement for the quarry workmen once existed.

The book is written in modern Greek, a factor which may restrict the number of general readers; but for those wishing to focus on Greek archaeology, knowledge of modern Greek is essential. It is beautifully produced and well illustrated with numerous color photos, maps and plans. Some technical problems include the absence of a scale for the map on p. 18 and in some cases the font size and plans are too small (p.19, 73). An important omission is the list of local toponyms and their location on the city plan. Such a list would make it easier for the reader to locate antiquities, such as the remains of workshops located in the areas of Kophna and Hagia Eirene (p.180), areas that are unknown to the general reader.

In summary, Merouses's book, by examining all aspects of material culture, presents a solid and cohesive account of the archaeology of Chios. He presents the as- yet unpublished activities of the G.A.S. and provides an up-to-date bibliographical list and catalogue of sites, which make this book an essential tool for any library, student or scholar wishing to familiarize him/herself with the archaeology of Chios.


1.   Merouses points out that although wood is scarce today on Chios, in antiquity the island was well-wooded, especially the northern end. He makes a reference to the wooden Chian klinai (beds), which are mentioned in the Parthenon inscriptions (422-421 BC) and were known for their quality, p. 25.
2.   This period is now called the Iron Age; C. Gates, Ancient Cities: the archaeology of urban life in the ancient Near East and Egypt, Greece and Rome (Routledge 2003) 194 points out "that the term 'dark' conveys a primitivism, a cultural regression that prejudices a view of these centuries."
3.   Ian Morris, Archaeology as cultural history: words and things in Iron Age Greece (Blackwell 2000) 186, also mentions a date around the mid-6th century or earlier, but points out that it is difficult to speak of a rule of the populace in Chios during this period based on the words boule demosia (people's council) found in the Chian inscription, since the members of the boule and its function are unknown.

Read Latest
Index for 2006
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:31:05, Friday, 03 April 2009