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Jan Driessen

5. Crafting Before and After the Collapse: Mycenaean Eleon in Boeotia

Brendan Burke et Bryan Burns

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1Ancient Eleon has been the focus of the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project since 2007. The site occupies a flat-topped acropolis within an agricultural plain stretching east from Thebes to the Euboean Gulf (Fig. 5.1). Rising to a height of 265 meters above sea level, the site has an excellent view in all directions, including north towards the Ipatos mountain range and the routes linking Thebes to Chalkis and other coastal sites on the island of Euboea. During the Late Bronze Age, in both palatial and post-palatial periods, the occupants of Eleon took advantage of this view shed to forge connections both east and west. Transitioning from Palatial to Postpalatial periods we see crafting activities at Eleon reflect larger changes of interest and affiliation, as Eleon’s network of interaction shifts from palatial Thebes to the emergent networks focused on the Euboean Gulf (Knodell 2013).

Fig. 5.1. Map of Eastern Boeotia (EBAP Excavations)

  • 1 We are very grateful for the significant research funding received from an Insight Grant (#435-2012 (...)

2The Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project (EBAP) is a synergasia for survey and excavation between the Canadian Institute in Greece and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia, formerly the 9th Ephorate. Since 2012 the synergasia has been co-directed by Alexandra Charami, Bryan Burns and Brendan Burke, with great help from Olga Kyriazi of the Ephorate1. The project is currently excavating the site of ancient Eleon, located in the village of Arma, about 80 km north of Athens, 12 km east of Thebes. This important site has not been previously excavated although topographers and travelers have long associated the elevated plateau with the Classical toponym of Eleon (Fossey 1988: 89-95).

3Ancient Eleon was the centre of an area selected for systematic regional collection survey between 2007 and 2009. This 10 by 16 km portion of the agricultural plain east of Thebes documented ancient material around three villages – Eleonas, Arma, and Tanagra (Aravantinos et alii 2016). The survey also included Bronze Age Tanagra, where excavations of two Mycenaean cemeteries, located at Gephyra and Dendron, produced the well-known painted larnakes now in the Archaeological Museum of Thebes, the Schimatari Museum, and private collections (Vermeule 1965; Iakovidis 1966; Immerwahr 1990; 1998; Marinatos 1997; Cavanaugh & Mee 1998; Burke 2010). In Arma, there are similar rock cut chamber tombs in the slopes south of the elevated site of ancient Eleon, which were thoroughly emptied before our study. From our survey Eleon stood out for its occupation phases from the Bronze Age to the Classical periods, including abundant evidence for Palatial and Postpalatial occupation. Therefore it seemed an ideal location to investigate the changing relationships with Thebes during this transition (Fig. 5.2).

Fig. 5.2. Ancient Eleon, aerial photograph of Northwest complex (EBAP Excavations)

4 Excavations beginning in 2011 have uncovered building remains that are best characterised as funerary, ritual, and domestic (Fig. 5.3). Our work is ongoing and what follows is a discussion of only a few of our results (see Aravantinos et alii 2012; Charami et alii 2015). The site has two major periods of occupation: first, a prehistoric phase spans several subphases of the Mycenaean period (Early Mycenaean, Palatial and Postpalatial, ca. 1700- 1050 BC). From the Early Mycenaean period (MH III-LH II) we have evidence for the construction and use of an elaborate rectangular funerary complex which we call the Blue Stone Structure, located in the centre of our excavation grid. Elsewhere Palatial levels are indicated by isolated deposits that include material related to craft production. Better preserved levels from the LH IIIC periods provide evidence for the endurance of Mycenaean culture at Eleon after the collapse of the palatial centre at Thebes. The acropolis at ancient Eleon seems to be abandoned before the Early Iron Age.

5A second major phase of activity at the site dates to the Archaic-Classical periods. Although scattered evidence for 8th-7th century pottery attest to the reuse of the acropolis in earlier periods, miniature vessels, fine drinking cups, and terracotta figurines are found in abundance from the 6th through 5th centuries. The construction of the large polygonal wall along the eastern side dates to the late Archaic period and is the most impressive standing monument at the site. The rich deposit of votive material indicates activity throughout the Classical period, but this is followed by another long period of inactivity until the Medieval occupation, which is indicated by isolated ceramic deposits and scant architectural remains, plus the better preserved stone tower that marks the western end of the site and offers a visual connection with Thebes.

6The connection between Eleon and Thebes during the Late Bronze Age is characterised by references on two Linear B tablets, Ft 140.5 and X.155 from the Kadmeion (Aravantinos et alii 2001; Aravantinos 2008; 2010: 59-60; Del Freo 2010: 45-46; Killen 2006). Tablet Ft 140 from the Arsenal is of key importance for recreating the geography of the Mycenaean economy and suggests that Eleon was a secondary centre administered by the palace. This page shaped tablet records five different toponyms in the nominative or dative-locative case, followed by substantial quantities of wheat, and, on all but line 4, olives. Three of the five toponyms have been identified with known ancient sites: te-qa-i (Thebes) in line 1, e-u-te-re-u (Eutresis) on line 2, and on line 5, e-re-o-ni (Eleon). The initial publication of this tablet interpreted it as a taxation document showing the amounts of grain and olives that each location was expected to give to the palace at Thebes (Aravantinos et alii 2001: 263-264). The commodity listed in the first line, however, is GRA + PE (-mo, pe-ma) meaning grain or wheat, referring to the quantity of grain seeds to germinate, thus showing a calculation of land as a measure of its productive capacity (Killen 2006).

1. Northwest sector: Palatial Crafting

7In addition to the agricultural production of Eleon we now have evidence related to diverse craft production during the Palatial period. Excavations in the Northwest quadrant of our excavation area have uncovered the remains of palatial levels stratified beneath a multi-room complex from the Postpalatial period (Fig. 5.2). As a result, the pottery is usually very fragmented, but recognisable LH IIIA and LH IIIB material includes an abundance of mendable fine, patterned open shapes. Architectural blocks of the Palatial period seem to have been repurposed in the multi-room complex by the LH IIIC occupants. A series of slabs positioned along the west at the level of the initial construction phase, as well as joins between Palatial ceramics, suggest a different architectural layout between the two periods. Floor levels associated with this phase also preserve some evidence for craft activities like cloth production and a steatite mould, a rather rare tool found outside palatial centres, for the production of jewellery.

8The Eleon stone jewellery mould is a flat fragment of red steatite, measuring 7.3 x 4.8 cm with a thickness of 2.2 cm (Fig. 5.4 and Fig. 5.5). Deeply cut matrices are preserved on both faces, with a total of seven designs. One face preserves a large waz lily, papyrus, cockle shell, and pendant spiral, while the second face offers variations on three of these: a smaller waz lily, a larger papyrus, and a cockle shell with more detailed grooves. Five of the matrices feature shallow channels that would facilitate the manufacture of string holes in solid ornaments, so that they could be more easily worn as jewellery.

Fig. 5.3. Plan of ancient Eleon, 2015 (G. Bianco)

Fig. 5.4. Steatite jewellery mould (B. Burke)

Fig. 5.5. Drawing steatite jewelery mould (T. Ross)

9The Eleon designs are all familiar motifs (Xenaki-Sakellariou 1985: 292-312, especially nos. 59, 73, 107, 111), appropriate for flat-back ornaments that are most commonly made of glass and often produced in conjunction with gold versions (Laffineur 1995). Neither of the two Mycenaean glass ornaments found thus far at Eleon – one flat-backed rosette, one grooved conical bead – match the designs preserved on the mould. But various close parallels are found among the jewellery found in numerous tombs and workshops at Thebes, as well as in the chamber tombs of Tanagra, east of Eleon. The finished ornaments from Thebes include both glass and gold pieces that match the motifs found on the Eleon mould, such as glass cockle shells and gold pendant spirals (Aravantinos 2010a: 75-81). The manufacture of jewellery at Thebes is well-established by the numerous workshops that contained raw materials and unfinished pieces in a variety of valuable materials, including onyx, agate, and lapis lazuli (Demakopoulou 2014). Two stone moulds have also been recovered in Thebes: a closed mould for casting metal rings and an open mould preserving most of a rosette motif appropriate for glass and gold ornaments (Piteros 1981: 191, pl. 120γ; Tournavitou 1997: 243-45). Thus Eleon and Thebes have complimentary evidence that indicates a tight connection, in terms of the types of ornaments that were in circulation across Eastern Boeotia.

10This type of open stone mould has been found in LH IIIB contexts at various Mycenaean sites, although conclusive evidence for a Mycenaean glass-workshop has yet to be archaeologically identified. The distribution of textual references and the finds of equipment for glass-working found at Argolid sites offers a parallel for a new Boeotian pattern where only a few limited locations are likely production centres. The highest concentration of evidence comes from Mycenae, where excavations have recovered six stone moulds in various contexts, and another now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which is said to be from Mycenae (Vermeule 1967; Tournavitou 1997). The most significant of these may be the steatite mould from Area 36 of the Citadel House area, which was carved on all six faces and preserved bits of vitreous material in one of its matrices (Evely & Runnels 1992). A series of Linear B tablets found nearby (MY Oi 701-705) record several ku-wa-no-wo-koi, Mycenaean craftsmen who worked with kyanos, most likely coloured glass (Chadwick 1962). This combination of evidence from Mycenae, plus pieces of unfinished glass inlays found at Tiryns (Panagiotaki et alii 2005), establish glass-working as a craft industry of palatial oversight. The presence of jewellery manufacturing beyond palatial centers, however, is known from the mould fragment found at Midea (Demakopoulou et alii 1994: 31, fig. 37).

  • 2 Alongside an active long-distance trade in glass ingots from Egypt and Mesopotamia, analysis of gla (...)

11There are numerous possible uses for the Eleon mould but since it was an isolated find we cannot be certain of what type of jewellery. Even if it was used primarily for glass ornaments, rather than gold, we should be mindful that this too was an imported material2. Mycenaean vitreous materials were likely considered a substitute for semi-precious stones, especially lapis lazuli. Ornaments from this blue stone, however, were incredibly rare in the Mycenaean world, yet the most significant concentration was found at the Kadmeion at Thebes: not only the well-known cache of imported cylinder seals, but also Mycenaean ornaments produced in the palace workshop (Symeonoglou 1973: 66-69; Aravantinos 2010a). Nonetheless, the creation of ornaments suggested by the Eleon mould was a rarified form of crafting that was of special interest to the ruling elites at Thebes.

2. Postpalatial Continuities and Disruptions: LH IIIC

12While the mould helps us characterise the Palatial phases (LH IIIA-IIIB) of the site of ancient Eleon in the Northwest complex, the most coherent phase of occupation in this area dates to the LH IIIC Early period. We have identified two subphases within LH IIIC Early in this quadrant – a stratified unburnt level that is followed by a burnt destruction. The architectural phases of the complex are currently under study but the general plan is clear (Fig. 5.2). Two large rooms, provisionally numbered 6 and 7, each feature a centrally positioned hearth. From the west a ramp leads to one of the hearth rooms and around this western hearth in 2015 we discovered three column supports with a fourth likely missing. The structure measures approximately 11 (E-W) by 14 meters (N-S) – though it clearly continues to the north on its western side.

13The burnt phase in the Northwest left a collapsed deposit of wall stones, mudbricks, and roofing material concentrated in Rooms 3-3N. Excavations in 2014 yielded 225 kg of burnt clay. This included mudbricks (typically measuring 30 x 20 x 9 cm), slabs of wall pavement, and chunks of daub with reed impressions. We also have evidence for pitched roofs. The remains of pan tiles, as well as corresponding cover tiles, were recovered. Several fragments were joined together to preserve the full dimensions of a pan tile, 53.5 x 44.5 cm. The morphology of this tile is demonstrably consistent with tiles found at Thebes, Mitrou, and Gla (Iakovidis 1998: plate 45: β-γ). In terms of comparative material, the burnt destructions have good parallels in the ground floor assemblages of Lefkandi households in phase lb, likewise destroyed by fire (Van Damme forthcoming). Evidence from Eleon suggests that the two destructions are roughly contemporary, perhaps indicating regional instability at this time.

14The floor level beneath this collapse contained fineware ceramics, cooking wares and storage vessels, copper alloy blades, and textile tools. In Room 5, an adjacent space to the east, more industrial activity is indicated by a series of six hearths positioned around a central stone that may have been a post supporting the roof. Presumably the southern half of the room was unroofed, since the largest hearths are clustered here, including three that are built directly upon the other. While it is tempting to link the pyrotechnic features to a dedicated activity, associated finds do not indicate specific crafting. Repeated building of the hearths suggest that the room sustained domestic and possibly industrial functions.

15The building’s second phase preserves the best evidence for its construction, use, and destruction in a fiery event dated to the LH IIIC Early period. In Room I, as delimited by walls on the north and west, we uncovered a sunken basin and tile hearth. Within was an extensive ceramic assemblage that included 18 complete or well preserved pots – three jugs and a hydria, four deep bowls, three kylikes, two cooking pots, a dipper, and a kalathos. The three linear kylikes may have fallen from a shelf above the lekane in the final destruction. The large number of serving and drinking vessels suggest a change in function, one related to commensality rather than crafting. Also present are patterned kraters, and what is the earliest LH 111C pictorial krater identified at Eleon, featuring a bird tucked beneath a probable antithetic spiral. These special vessels, as well as fragments of bull figures, point to ritual activity as well in the final phases of the Bronze Age at Eleon.

16To conclude, the Mycenaean occupation uncovered at Eleon features architectural units with large rooms and tiled roofs. Continuous occupation is associated with deposits dated to the LH IIIB2, LH IIIC Early and LH IIIC Middle periods. Without the major disruption recorded at many other Mycenaean sites, the population of Eleon continued to be active in agricultural, pastoral, and industrial activities, as suggested by ground stones, storage vessels, and textile tools. Agricultural production of the Palatial period took place, at least to some extent, under the coordination of the Theban administration. The stone jewellery mould suggests Eleon’s participation in a crafting system that may have been administered by Thebes, through the exchange of raw materials and finished ornaments potentially. With the collapse of the Theban centre, the community of craftspeople at Eleon shifted their focus toward other activities and other partners.



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1 We are very grateful for the significant research funding received from an Insight Grant (#435-2012-0185) from the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, and the Loeb Classical Library Foundation. We also appreciate the dedicated efforts of the students and affiliated scholars who contribute so much to our research, especially Dr. Bartomiej Lis (Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology Polish Academy of Sciences) and Trevor Van Damme (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA) for their excellent work with the prehistoric ceramics. We are happy present this short article on our work which concerns Mycenaean jewellery manufacture, among other crafting, in honour of Robert Laffineur.

2 Alongside an active long-distance trade in glass ingots from Egypt and Mesopotamia, analysis of glass beads from Elateia, west of Thebes, suggests local Mycenaean manufacture as well. See Nikita & Henderson 2006; Henderson et alii 2010.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 5.1. Map of Eastern Boeotia (EBAP Excavations)
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Légende Fig. 5.2. Ancient Eleon, aerial photograph of Northwest complex (EBAP Excavations)
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Légende Fig. 5.3. Plan of ancient Eleon, 2015 (G. Bianco)
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Légende Fig. 5.4. Steatite jewellery mould (B. Burke)
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Légende Fig. 5.5. Drawing steatite jewelery mould (T. Ross)
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