Laconia Survey Inscriptions: Introduction

The Laconia Survey was carried out between 1983 and 1989 by a team from the British School at Athens and the Universities of Amsterdam and Nottingham. The survey area comprised a group of koinotites (communes) east of Sparta on the other side of the river Evrotas (ancient Eurotas). Within these communes, an area of some 70 sq km, was intensively field-walked with the aim of recovering data for all periods up to the early nineteenth century ad. The results of the survey form two Supplementary Volumes of the Annual of the British School at Athens (Cavanagh et al. 1996, 2002).

More than four hundred sites were located, and seventy-seven items of epigraphic material were recorded and published (or re-published) in Shipley 1996. Thirty-two of these (46-77) are from the modern period, including the period of Greek independence, such as inscribed dates on houses, threshing-floors, chapels, and bridges. A further nineteen (27-45) are from monasteries and churches of late Byzantine and early modern dates, mainly from the still functioning monastery complex of Agioi Saranda (Moni Agion Tessarakonta Martyron) a few kilometres east of Sparta (LS site L534). Some of the Agioi Saranda texts had already been published by Sakellaropoulos (1929). Two catalogue numbers (15-16) were reserved for lists of earlier finds within the survey area not rediscovered by the Survey.

The remaining twenty-four items (1-14, 17-26) date from the Roman period and earlier. They are numbered in approximate chronological sequence within the the following categories: 1-14 inscriptions on stone, 17-21 stamped tiles and bricks, 22-26 inscriptions on pottery. Our selection of images comprises most of the last group (1-2, 4, 6-14, 18-24). Several of these finds had been published earlier, notably three ancient inscriptions built into structures at Agioi Saranda (4; 5, not illustrated here because too poorly preserved; and 7); a fourth ancient stone at Agios Saranda (12) had not been seen by earlier scholars. Other stone inscriptions no longer in situ are 3 (not illustrated; masons' marks from classical blocks reused in an Ottoman bridge), 6 and 13 (both from a church at Kokkinorrachi just north of Sparta; 6 published in Shipley and Spawforth 1995), 8 and 11 (both in material from a building site, perhaps in Sparta, that was dumped in the river Kelephina), 9 (from a chapel near Aphysou), and 10 (from a ruined spring-house near Agioi Saranda). The stamped tile 18 comes from another dump of building rubble and may have originated in Sparta.

Stone inscriptions associated with archaeological sites proper numbered only two: 1 (a fragment of a late archaic votive stele from the top of Phagia hill, several kilometres east of Sparta) and 2 (classical gravestone from the foot of Palaiogoulas hill, the probable site of the ancient perioikic polis of Sellasia). No. 14, a semi-literate boundary marker of uncertain date, was found near a late field wall with no associated artefacts. Two tile-stamps (17, 19) were found on a low spur near Aphysou, a third (20) on a hellenistic and Roman site near the river Evrotas. A stamped brick (21) on a Byzantine and Ottoman site in the hills near the Kelephina had originally been used in the late hellenistic and Roman theatre of Sparta, and so is a stray. Inscribed potsherds - several, so to speak, in situ, though strictly speaking not as they were, of course, surface finds - comprised a very small archaic sherd (23) from a probable cult site, a fourth-century bc bowl from a field near Aphysou (24), a poorly preserved lekythos from a hellenistic site near Kokkinorachi (25, not illustrated here), and a pithos sherd with a cross found on a Roman site (26, not illustrated).

The most interesting ceramic find was part of a sixth-century bc vase with a fragmentary inscription from Tsakona ridge, recognized by Graham Shipley as a dedication to Zeus Messapeus (22; R. W. V. Catling and Shipley 1989). This was the first indication that a shrine of this deity stood on the east side of the Eurotas; the one mentioned by Pausanias (3.20.3) as being 'in the plain' was on the west side of the Sparta valley, at Anthochori. Our inscribed sherd was found below an archaic to Roman cult site (N415) where many terracotta figurines, mainly ithyphallic, were found (Overbeek 1996: 190-1, nos 59-69 and pls 11 c-13 a) and a cult building was subsequently excavated (H. W. Catling 1990).

The distribution of the epigraphic finds from the Laconia Survey is very strongly centred on Sparta - though the two stone inscriptions found in situ were also at the greatest distance from the town. (See map.) Many of the epigraphic finds within the survey area were transported to the places where they found from their original places of use in or near Sparta. To the in situ finds, however, should be added in situ finds made by earlier explorers within the survey area. These include ancient gravestones, votive bases and stelae, and a variety of other votive objects. Their findspots are either in the neighbourhoods of three villges, Chrysapha (15 a, 16 a), Kephalas (15 n), and Sellasia (formerly Vourlia; 15 b-d), or on the Menelaion ridge with its sanctuary of Menelaos and Helen (15 e-j, o, 16 b-e; also a tile-stamp, 16 f). In addition, the Tsakona excavations produced two stone inscriptions and a tile-stamp relating to the cult of Messapian Zeus (15 l-m, 16 g). Thus the use of literacy within the survey area in ancient times was sparse; most finds are archaic or classical, and all are from cultic or funerary contexts.

Graham Shipley, January 2002
University of Leicester


Catling, H. W. 1990. A sanctuary of Zeus Messapeus: excavations at Aphyssou, Tsakona, 1989. Annual of the British School at Athens, 85: 15-35.

Catling, R. W. V., and Shipley, D. G. J. 1989. Messapian Zeus: an early sixth-century inscribed cup from Lakonia. Annual of the British School at Athens, 84: 187-200.

Cavanagh, W., Crouwel, J., Catling, R. W. V., and Shipley, G. 1996. Continuity and Change in a Greek Rural Landscape: The Laconia Survey. Vol. ii: Archaeological Data. London: British School at Athens.

Cavanagh, W., Crouwel, J., Catling, R. W. V., and Shipley, G. 2002. Continuity and Change in a Greek Rural Landscape: The Laconia Survey. Vol. i: Results and Interpretation. London: British School at Athens.

Overbeek, M. 1996. The small finds. In Cavanagh et al. 1996, 183-98.

Sakellaropoulos, M. 1929. I iera moni ton Tessarakonta [in Greek]. Athinai.

Shipley, G. 1996. The epigraphic material. In Cavanagh et al. 1996, 213-34.

Shipley, G., and Spawforth, A. 1995. New imperial subscripts to the Spartans. Annual of the British School at Athens, 90: 429-34.

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