Stymphalos, Mainland Greece

Stymphalos was a modest town located some 600 metres up in the mountains of the northeastern Peloponnese near the boundaries of ancient Arcadia. From 1982-4 a UBC team under the direction of Hector Williams carried out a topographical and geophysical survey that revealed for the first time the grid plan of a late classical city within some 2.5 km. of fortifications. Since 1994 annual excavations at the site (famous for Herakles’ labour of killing the notorious Stymphalian birds) have uncovered roads, houses, a theatre and other public buildings, a sanctuary to Athena with rich offerings of jewelry, and five early Christian cemeteries and have provided opportunities for over a hundred students from across Canada and the U.S. to gain archaeological experience.

Detailed Description: Ancient Stymphalos, famous for the slaying of the Stymphalian birds by the hero Herakles, lay in a valley six hundred metres up in the mountains of northeastern Arkadia. It goes back to the Bronze Age with intermittent habitation down to the 15th century. Since 1982 teams under the direction of Hector Williams have been exploring the site topographically, geophysically and since 1994 with large scale archaeological excavations. Our work has concentrated on the late classical-Hellenistic city founded on the north shore of the lake around 350 BC. Initial explorations had demonstrated that the city was laid out on a grid plan with six metre wide roads every thirty metres running north-south and wider avenues running east-west every hundred metres or so; the new building seems to have been part of a programme of urban construction and reconstruction throughout Greece at that time.

Our excavations have uncovered a number of houses and roads, a stage building for the town theatre, a wrestling school, a monumental gateway to a sanctuary, another sanctuary to the goddess Athena with temple and auxiliary building, a number of areas of the city’s fortifications, various small structures, and, surprisingly, five early Christian cemeteries – previously we had no evidence for settlement so late (5th-6th centuries). Numismatic evidence suggests that the city received rough treatment from the Roman army ca. 146 BC in the Achaean War with the sanctuary looted and destroyed (nearby Corinth was obliterated in the same war). We uncovered smashed marble statues and hundreds of clay figurines as well as over two hundred pieces of jewelry (mostly bronze earrings, bracelets and finger rings with a few fragments of gold and silver). There was limited resettlement in early Roman times when several well appointed villas were built over abandoned houses; in them we found masses of painted wall plaster that had fallen in an earthquake about AD 40 that may have led to the abandonment of most of the site. Nearly a century later at the time of the emperor Hadrian a monumental aqueduct was built to lead the abundant waters of the valley down to the coastal plain at Corinth, new capital of the Roman province of Achaea.