ATHENS AND LEFKANDI: A TALE OF
Irene S. Lemos
In terms of the sources of our knowledge of them, ancient Athens and Lefkandi might be said to occupy the extremes of a continuum. In the case of Athens, we have more information from literary sources than for any other Greek city. Lefkandi, however, is unknown to the literary sources, to the point where we do not even know its ancient name,1 and it was only discovered in the 1960s by a British survey of Euboea.2 It is, however, archaeology and not the ancient sources which give us more reliable information about the early history of both Athens and Lefkandi,3 and indeed, archaeological discoveries provide enough evidence to suggest that both sites were occupied through out the Bronze Age. Although they both continued to play an important role in the Early Iron Age, Lefkandi appears to have lost its prominent position at the end of the eighth century, while Athens continued to be a focal site up to the modern day. This continuous occupation of Athens, however, deprives us of a complete archaeological picture of its early history. Apart from the systematic excavations in the Kerameikos and the Agora, the rest of the town has been investigated only by rescue excavations from which we rarely have fully published reports. Moreover, the Athenian Acropolis had to experience not only continuous occupation but also several cleaning operations after destructions or rearrangements, and even the occasional bombardment, throughout its long history of use.
1 For the ancient name of the site see Popham in Lefkandi I: 423–7 and discussion in Lemos,
Protogeometric Aegean: 203–4.
2 The site was excavated after a survey conducted by Hugh Sackett, Mervyn Popham and others
(Sackett et al. 1966). The location of the site next to the Lelantine plain and between the two
well-known ancient cities of Eretria and Chalkis suggested to the first excavators that it must be
of some importance. I believe, however, that it is fair to say that they would have never anticipated
its significance for the history of early Greece.
3 In this chapter I am not going to use later literary sources in order to reconstruct the early stage
in the history of the two sites but only archaeological material. So questions related to the synoikismos
or the autochthony of the Athenians or possible scenarios for the end of Lefkandi
related to the Lelantine war will be left out.