CSPSCentre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies

Being Peloponnesian

Proceedings of the conference held at the University of Nottingham 31st March-1st April 2007

Sponsored by the Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies, University of Nottingham, this conference brought together leading classicists with expertise in different intellectual domains.

The central theme looked at developments of Prehistoric, Classical, Roman, Byzantine and modern times that promoted or hindered the cultural and economic integration of the Peloponnese and its inhabitants’ sense of a shared identity.

Dark craggy hill silhouetted against blue sky with clouds
Conference proceedings

Competing centripetal and centrifugal tendencies operated alongside the influence of external forces to make Peloponnesian identity of greater or lesser significance within larger political worlds. Through papers focused on all or most of the region, the conference explored how a sense of the Peloponnese developed, was transmitted, and fluctuated through time. 

Being Peloponnesian: conference proceedings by chapter

ChapterAuthorPaper title
 1 Christopher Mee Cohesion and diversity in the Neolithic Peloponnese: what the pottery tells us.
 2 Erik Ostby Early Tegea, Sparta and the sanctuary of Athena Alea.
 3 Maria Pretzler Making Peloponnesians: Sparta's allies and their regional identities.
 4 Kostas Vlassopoulos The regional identity of the Peloponnese.
 5 Catherine  Grandjean  Polybius and Achaian coinage.
 6 A. D. Rizakis Supra-civic landowning and supra-civic euergetic activities of urban elites in the Imperial Peloponnese.
 7 Aimila Bakourou The last creation of paleologan painting in the dome of the metropolis at Mystras.
 8 Hamish Forbes Becoming a Methanitis: forgetting in order to remember.

Conference speakers and paper summaries

Christopher Mee (University of Liverpool), ‘Cohesion and Diversity in the Prehistoric Peloponnese: what the pottery tells us’

This paper focuses on the evidence that pottery provides for interaction between communities in the Neolithic Peloponnese. In the Middle Neolithic period the Urfirnis style of decoration is ubiquitous, though most of the pottery was locally made. How was this uniformity achieved and what does it signify? In the Late Neolithic period a number of different styles evolved. Does this indicate that there was less interaction or was there a desire to highlight distinctions as much within as between communities? More generally, do we get a sense of different regional identities in the Neolithic or was there an awareness of ‘being Peloponnesian’ even then?

Chrysanthi Gallou (University of Nottingham), ‘Ove la storia e muta, parlan le tombe: cohesion and diversity in the deathscapes of prehistoric Peloponnese‘

The aim of this paper is to assess the degree of homogeneity (or not) in the burial practices of Bronze Age Peloponnese and examine how people perceived themselves, their contemporaries and, more importantly, their past while forming their cultural identity. As an example I shall take the early Mycenaean period and examine on the one hand the significance of wealth and social standing and on the other local tradition in framing funerary customs, and the tensions between the larger and smaller worlds in the Peloponnese.


Erik Østby (University of Bergen), ‘Early Tegea, Sparta, and the Sanctuary of Athena Alea’

The recent excavations in the sanctuary of Athena Alea at Tegea have demonstrated that cult in the sanctuary certainly goes back to the 9th or even 10th century BC, initially in simple settings with evidence for small, apsidal cult-buildings in wattle and daub in the late 8th and early 7th century BC. There are limited indications of another, modest temple covering the chronological gap between these buildings and the large, probably Doric and peripteral temple built in the late 7th century, confirming the impression of a leap of quality involving an extensive reorganisation of the sanctuary toward the end of the 7th century. This new emphasis on the sanctuary for a local deity may be seen as a reaction to pressure from Sparta after the second Messenian war, by setting up the sanctuary as an ideological rallying point against this pressure. This must have been the initiative of a political structure covering all the ancient demes of Tegea, probably established in reaction to the same pressures, and it certainly preceded that construction of an urban centre on the plain north of the sanctuary which recent fieldwork now dates to the late 6th century BC.
Maria Pretzler (University of Swansea), ‘Making Peloponnesians: Sparta’s allies and their regional identity‘
This paper explores the impact of the Peloponnesian League on Sparta's Peloponnesian allies and their sense of identity. I investigate the activities of the League which compelled allies to co-operate frequently during a period of several decades. The impact of such long-standing close connections can best be observed where Peloponnesians co-operate outside the control of their hegemony: my test cases are the mercenaries among the Ten Thousand and the actions of Peloponnesian states after Leuktra. I argue that the Peloponnesian League did indeed foster a Peloponnesian identity which had an impact on the behaviour of states and individuals in their dealings with Sparta's alliance, and also influenced ways in which outsiders perceived the Peloponnese.
Kostas Vlassopoulos (University of Nottingham), ‘Region and regional identity in ancient Greece: the Peloponnese in comparative perspective’
In this paper I intend to examine to what extent there was a distinct Peloponnesian identity in the archaic and classical periods. I examine a number of indicia of regional identity (the absence of external control, political unity, ethnic or racial homogeneity, common sanctuaries, common social structures, common artistic traditions, common networks of movement of goods, ideas and manpower, common coinage). The result is rather negative in most cases as regards the Peloponnese: in some cases because the common identity features do not apply to the whole Peloponnese, in others because they apply to a wider area. This raises the issue of whether it is reasonable to expect the formation of a common identity over such a wide area, which was ethnically and politically divided to such a large extent. In order to answer this, I look briefly at two other large areas that did develop a common sense of identity, despite political and ethnic fragmentation: Sicily and Southern Italy. The comparison will hopefully show why the potential of regional identity was not realised in the Peloponnese.
Catherine Grandjean (University of Tours), ‘Unity and diversity in the Hellenistic Peloponnese’ 
This paper will focus upon the coinage of the region during the Hellenistic period with reference to the following commentary by Polybios:

"For while many have attempted in the past to induce the Peloponnesians to adopt a common policy, no one ever succeeding, as each was working not in the cause of general liberty, but for his own aggrandizement, this object has been so much advanced, and so nearly attained, in my own time that not only do they form an allied and friendly community, but they have the same laws, weights, measures and coinage, as well as the same magistrates, senate, and courts of justice, and the whole Peloponnesian only falls short of being a single city in the fact of its inhabitants not being enclosed by one wall, all other things being, both as regards the whole and as regards each separate town, very nearly identical."

Polybius 2.37, 9-11 (translation W.R. Paton, Loeb, 1922)

Athanassios Rizakis (University of Nancy & KERA (Institute of Greek and Roman Research, Athens), ‘Supra-civic landowning and supra-civic euergetic activities of urban élites in the Imperial Peloponnese’
Urban élite families employed various ways to gain power in their own city and occasionally at regional or imperial level. Connections with other powerful Greek or Roman families and various marriage strategies were used to reinforce their position. Investments were made in land in their own and neighbouring cities. Investment in neighbouring cities was possible from the Imperial period onwards, at least for more powerful families. These acquisitions, frequently accompanied by various euergetic activities, improved the profile and image of such families, whose members steadily pursued their political ascent in their own towns, which in many cases led ultimately to provincial and imperial careers. 
Anastasia Panagiotopoulou (5th Ephorate of Classical and Prehistoric Antiquities, Greece), ‘Mosaic workshops of the Peloponnese Roman–Late Antiquity’
This paper aims to identify and define – for the first time – the common characteristics shared by mosaic pavements of the Roman and Late Antique periods, unearthed in a number of cities in the Peloponnese. Comparative study of the pavements can reveal their common background and explore the hypothesis of their being products of local or itinerant workshops. Further, setting the Peloponnesian mosaics into the wider Mediterranean context will clarify the influences exercised on the workshops in the formation of their artistic expression.
Aimilia Bakourou (5th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, Greece), ‘Painting in the Despotate of Morea’
The wall paintings of the dome of St Demetrius, the Metropolis of Mystras, were executed during the period of the addition of the galleries of the church, which has been attributed with a date between 1443/4 and 1449.
Being the only decoration of the galleries of the cathedral, it belongs to the late Byzantine period of the Despotate of Morea and is closely related to the dramatic historical events of the time. The depiction of Christ Pantokrator on the dome, as well as the presence of the Virgin between angels and Prophets, follows the similar example of the dome of the Peribleptos church (Mystras).As far as iconography is concerned, the depiction of Christ is following the Constantinopolitan tradition of the 14th century, whereas his style, as well as that of the surrounding figures, is related to Palaiologan wall paintings of the first half of the 15th century in the Despotate of Morea.
Guy Sanders (Director of the Corinth Excavations), ‘Centre and periphery in the Medieval Peloponnese. The excavated evidence from Corinth, Sparta and Ayios Stephanos‘
This paper discusses differences in the medieval ceramic assemblages from three carefully excavated sites; a provincial capital (Corinth), a provincial town (Sparta) and a rural settlement (Ayios Stephanos in S. Lakonia). Refinements in pottery chronology now make it possible to read the archaeological record together with the historical record for the first time. The material culture at the three sites, supplemented by survey and less fully reported excavations, clearly reflects political developments in the Peloponnese. For instance, the partition of the Peloponnese between Frank and Byzantine governments is reflected in the distribution of Southern Italian maiolicas while settlement and resettlement by ethnic Slavs in Lakonia is marked by a preference for heat handmade cooking beakers over wheel made chytras of inferior quality. 
John Bennet (University of Sheffield), ‘Human histories in the “Greater Peloponnese”: potential insights from documents and archaeology in 18th-century Messenia and Kythera’

This paper attempts to summarise recent and ongoing research drawing on a combination of detailed documentary and archaeological data analysed in the course of recent research in southwestern Messenia (Pylos Regional Archaeological Project) and on the island of Kythera (Kythera Island Project). Although the choice of the two regions is largely contingent, reflecting the author’s immediate experience, the two regions arguably both belong to a ‘Greater Peloponnese’ at certain periods of their long-term histories. The histories of the two regions are, in fact, mirror-images of one another: the Peloponnese (or Morea) was under Ottoman control from the late 15th to the 19th century, with a brief period of Venetian domination in the late 17th to early 18th century, while Kythera (Cerigo) was under Venetian control almost continuously from the 13th to the end of the 18th century, but under Ottoman domination from 1715 to 1718.

As a result, we have documentary data from both Venetian and Ottoman sources for each region. Using these data in combination with the fine-grained landscape knowledge derived from archaeological survey research, we have been able to pinpoint named locations across the landscape. Documentary evidence about individuals, land-holdings and structures can be linked to these locations, offering — among other things — the possibility of understanding the way in which those living on the land conceived and experienced their local geography. Equally, we can begin to outline the production and residential strategies of local inhabitants and those in control and how those may (or may not) have changed across the seemingly major shifts in power that happened in both regions in the late 17th and 18th centuries. For Messenia, we have produced an initial large-scale study (F. Zarinebaf, J. Bennet, and J.L. Davis, A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece: the southwestern Morea in the 18th century, Princeton 2005); research on Kythera is in progress.

The paper will draw out a small number of case studies from both regions to illustrate the practice of this type of research and its potential for generating landscape-situated ‘human histories’.



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