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Mediterranean Urbanization 800-600 BC$

Robin Osborne and Barry Cunliffe

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780197263259

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197263259.001.0001

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Forms and Processes: Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Urbanization in Early Archaic Greece

Forms and Processes: Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Urbanization in Early Archaic Greece

(p.44) (p.45) 3 Forms and Processes: Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Urbanization in Early Archaic Greece
Mediterranean Urbanization 800-600 BC

François De Polignac

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the forms, process, and meaning of urbanization in the early Archaic Period in Greece. It explains that the Greek world is particularly suitable for a study of the processes of urbanization in the Archaic Mediterranean. Prime candidates for the essential traits of a Greek town are the clear functional distinctions between different types of space, and one such distinction is that between exterior and urban space.

Keywords:   urbanization, Greece, early Archaic Period, towns, exterior space, urban space

FOR A NUMBER OF REASONS the Greek world seems particularly suitable for a study of the processes of urbanization in the Archaic Mediterranean. Over the course of time the Greeks developed or founded more than a thousand towns, the greater number of which were also independent cities. What is more, the Greek practice of town planning is well attested and very widely documented by archaeology. It might seem, therefore, that it would be sufficient to study the plan of a Greek foundation to identify the essential traits which characterize a Greek town.

Prime candidates for the essential traits of a Greek town are the clear functional distinctions between different types of space. One such distinction is that between exterior space and urban space; the separation between them is sometimes given material form by a circuit wall and it marks also the boundary between the space of the living and the space of the dead. Another such distinction is between private space and public space, the latter comprising both sanctuaries and the various institutions associated with collective life—agora, assembly-places, buildings housing magistracies. A third such distinction is that between living space and specialized working spaces, such as potters’ quarters.

Although full evidence for these distinctions appears only in urban plans of the sixth century, it is generally agreed that the very first foundations of the eighth century already present their essential marks. The example which is invariably invoked is that of Megara Hyblaea in Sicily, where the separation between private and public, or ‘reserved’ space is in place from the beginning, even if the town plan does not present the handsome rectilinear regularity of later foundations. As for the cities of Greece and of the Aegean of earlier origin, several of which (e.g. Athens, Argos) appear in the Geometric period to have been a loose grouping of hamlets or nuclei of habitation, (p.46) their passage to true urban status involves an analogous functional reorganization of space, the first manifestations of which, occurring in the late eighth or early seventh century, seem to be a more marked separation between the dead and the living seen in the relocation of cemeteries to the edge of the inhabited area, followed by the appearance of buildings whose cult function is now clearly identifiable and exclusive—in other words, the first temples recognized as such. This whole package of changes is associated with the emergence of the polis as a structured political organization, complete with stable institutions, in place of the personalized forms of power of the earlier era, as the society becomes both more complex and more highly stratified (Hölscher 1998).

Within this model, however, the identification of criteria by which to judge the more or less urban character of a settlement rests largely on the analysis of a well-dated moment of city evolution. As other studies have already underlined (Fischer-Hansen 1996, 318; Vink 1997, 113–14), it is in fact with relation to the situation of the late Archaic period (the sixth century at the earliest), if not of later periods still, that our model of the Greek town is elaborated. We select the characteristics and the descriptive categories which are suitable for defining what is urban (density, size, monumentalization, social and economic diversification, public architecture, and so on) and we then define an ‘ideal type’ with reference to which we elaborate our measures of degree of urbanization and establish a scale of values. The analysis of earlier situations therefore risks amounting to a simple retrojection of criteria identified in a later context, something which clearly leads to setting up a perfectly linear evolution whose different stages go from an original lack of organization or differentiation, a sort of primitive chaos, to the climax of the Classical period (order), expressed in the Hippodamian town plan which would be to Greek urbanism what democracy would represent for politics—its most perfect realization. The dangers of so marked a teleological vision have been well underlined by Emmanuele Greco (Greco 1999a, viii–ix, criticizing Hoepfner and Schwandner 1994). An example will serve to demonstrate the distortions that can result from such a teleological vision: the question of the perception of ‘outside’ and ‘inside’.

Interior and Exterior

In most publications, plans of Greek towns mark the line of a circuit wall. Even if this later structure is shown only for topographic purposes to indicate the extent of the town, its presence introduces a radical break into our perception of the plan. The way in which we picture urban space is therefore strongly determined by the presence of a graphic sign of closure and by a very marked separation between the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’, to such an (p.47) extent that the sharp separation appears to be a determining criterion of urbanization (cf. e.g. Schallin 1997, 20; Hölscher 1998, 67–8).

How can we be sure, however, that our perception of a sharp distinction between inside and outside faithfully reflects the earliest experience of space? It is true that often circuit walls simply followed the accidents of topography (a ridge, the edge of a plateau or foot of a slope, a watercourse) which naturally delimit habitable space. It is true, too, that there have been recent significant developments with regard to the problem of dating town walls. The idea which long held sway that towns generally remained without walls before the second half of the sixth century, except in Greek Asia Minor and in the islands (Snodgrass 1986), has had to be revised in the light of new discoveries, particularly in the cities of the west. Traces of earlier circuits have been found beneath the line of late sixth-century walls both at Megara Hyblaea, where they apparently date to the middle of the seventh century (Tréziny 1996, 347; Gras and Tréziny 1999, 262), and at Cumae, where they date to the beginning or first half of the sixth century (Fratta 2002: 69–70). At Megara Hyblaea Henri Tréziny believes that a primitive enclosure consisting of a ditch and bank existed from the very beginning of the city, and that the later circuit wall simply followed the line of this enclosure (Tréziny 2002, 271). In mainland Greece part of a circuit wall dating to the last third of the seventh century has also been found on the edge of the so-called Potters’ Quarter at the western limit of Corinth, but it would be unwise, perhaps, to deduce from this that the whole area of the town was surrounded by a wall from that time. So it is easy to understand the considerations of clarity and simplicity that can lead to marking the line of a circuit wall on an Archaic town, as, for example, when studying the distribution of cemeteries and their evolution in relationship to the residential areas of the Geometric and Archaic periods: the neat categories of ‘outside’ and ‘inside’, to which we like to make reference and which it is easy to oppose to one another, immediately jump out.

It is also easy, however, to underline the contradictions that result from the inappropriate employment of this distinction between inside and outside. There are cases where the Archaic circuit wall seems to have surrounded only part of the residential area, as will be seen in detail in the case of Thasos; this peculiarity, one might note, contradicts the prevailing purely evolutionary understanding of urban development according to which the building of walls should reflect the progressive expansion of the urban space. At Miletos, recent excavations seem to show that there was an Archaic residential district close to the sanctuary of Aphrodite at Zeytintepe, in an area west of the Classical town and previously considered to be outside the urban area (Senff 1997). By contrast, there are cases where Archaic or Classical walls enclosed earlier cemeteries, as in the case of the Anaploga plateau at Corinth (p.48) (Williams 1982, 11) or the little cemetery which continued in use at the western foot of the Areopagus hill at Athens, in an area considered to be ‘inside’ since it was enclosed within the classical circuit of fortifications: either the existence of these cemeteries contradicts the ‘rule’ according to which, from the seventh century on, all burials were expelled beyond the edge of the residential area, a view suggested by the very title of the publication of the Athenian tombs by R. S. Young, Sepulturae intra urbem (Young 1951), or else our perception of outside and inside is false.

If one suppresses the representation of circuit walls in those cases where their existence is not formally attested, Archaic urban space loses much of the reassuring coherence and apparent homogeneity which being enclosed provides. The different quarters of Corinth or Miletos, for example, appear to be suspended in a vast area in which it is impossible to identify at any point a precise demarcation between inside and outside, between town, cemeteries and countryside (Figure 3.1ab). Our vision of Archaic urban space ceases to be systematically determined in advance by a sharp break between ‘outside’ and ‘inside’, and allows room for a greater diversity of articulations, passages, and transitions, on the one hand between the different components of space which is considered to be urban, and on the other hand between these components and everything which is found in the surroundings. The question that arises is to determine whether, in some cases, the imposition of pre-established categories of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ completely distorts our interpretation of urban plans by emphasizing a picture of a space that is at the same time closed, homogeneous, and centred on itself, as opposed to a conception of the urban, like that defended by Emmanuele Greco, which does not limit itself to the space within the walls (Greco 1999b, ix).

Why should we suppose, indeed, that, at an early period, the links which both unified the different parts of the residential area, and also articulated them around a common centre (an acropolis, agora, sanctuary etc.), played a more powerful, more visible, and more meaningful role in the way people lived their lives than the potential links uniting each of these areas with the outlying activities nearby, whether they involve cemeteries, sanctuaries, roads, or access to water supplies or to the nearby countryside? Is it really correct to consider these outlying activities exterior to residential space when they were in a position to influence its organization? Tonio Hölscher is right to have taken those surrounding activities into account in his study of Archaic public space, but he nevertheless maintains a structural opposition in the city between a clearly defined interior and a clearly defined exterior (Hölscher 1998, 67–83): it is important to ask whether this opposition does not need to be transcended if we are to understand the place of the town in early Archaic space.


Figure 3.1a. Plan of late Archaic ‘wealthy Corinth’, showing city walls (reproduced from Morgan 1994, with permission).


Forms and Processes: Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Urbanization in Early Archaic Greece

Figure 3.1b. Plan of early Archaic (eighth- and seventh-century) ‘open Corinth’.

Even in ‘colonial’ foundations whose regular orthogonal plans seem necessarily to differentiate properly urban space from that which surrounds it, and where circuit walls seem more widely distributed at an earlier date than in mainland Greece, an interpretation of the urban character based solely on ‘internal’ components soon reveals its limitations. If it is examined in the light of the regular plans of Metapontum, Poseidonia (Paestum), or so many other foundations, the plan of Megara Hyblaea could look like a first and still clumsy step towards the realization of a perfect orthogonal plan—a stage intermediate between a disorderly settlement and a perfectly rectangular foundation, as if the planners did not yet have the geometrical skills to execute a perfectly orthogonal urban structure. However, we know that this (p.51) is not the case at all; on the contrary, Megara’s planners took a great deal of trouble, and devised geometrical procedures a good deal more complicated than those needed for an orthogonal plan, in order to achieve their primary objective, which was division of the land into perfectly equal lots in a non-orthogonal system (Tréziny 1999; Gras and Tréziny 2001, 51–3 and fig. 5; 2002, 267). There can be no question, therefore, of reconstructing an evolution and then justifying it with reference to technical progress. Why did the planners so complicate the geometry of their task when they had all the knowledge necessary to effect an orthogonal plan? In his recent publications Henri Tréziny reveals the determining roles which were played by an ancient communication route running north-south, following the coast but turning inland at just the point at which Megara was founded, and by access to the port at the mouth of the River Cantera (Tréziny 2002, 267–71; on the port see also Gras 1995). The first of these would have determined various different orientations of the road system as well as the position of two access points (the Orsi gate and the Syracuse gate), while the second would explain the double orientation of the so-called agora area to the north-east: in fact the two main roads which frame the agora seem to point it to the north towards the route leading from the plateau to the river below and to the port (Figure 3.2a). By contrast with what Jesper Svenbro thought that he could detect by reference to philosophical, political, and town-planning ideas of the sixth century, such as isonomia (Svenbro 1982), what will have determined the form of the settlement in this quarter and the line of the roads would not be a concern for equal access to the central place, the agora, but equal access to a means of getting to those parts of urban space which one could term peripheral, such as the port, but which one should be careful about too quickly labelling as outside urban space. Among these ‘peripheral’ elements it is important also to stress the cult sites which form a crown around the residential area—what Roland Martin has called the ‘sacred belt’ and of which he has found traces in a large number of cities in the west, and which is also to be found at Megara Hyblaea at least in the sixth century (Martin 1983, 16–17; de Polignac 1999); if these cult sites form the boundary of urban space they do not so much enclose it as give concrete form to the transition, the passage, to space outside. And Megara is not at all exceptional: this type of analysis can be extended also to other cases, such as Archaic Naxos and doubtless also Syracuse, in the west (Tréziny 2002, 273–8), or Eretria in Greece proper (Bérard 1998, 148). An ‘introverted’ and blinkered vision of the town as turned to the inside, to the centre, must be replaced by a conception of Archaic urban organization which is more ‘extrovert’ and more open.


Figure 3.2a. Plan of Megara Hyblaea (reproduced from Tréziny 2002, with kind permission).

Forms and Processes

It is to avoid the problems of such retrojection of later expectations about the town that Mogens Hansen has proposed that it would be better to define what can be considered as truly urban separately for each period (Hansen 1995, 41). Putting the question like this is a more nuanced and more fruitful approach than simply affirming that ‘The rise of the polis and the rise of the city were anything but synonymous’, as Ian Morris did when he stated that the emergence of cities in the eighth century was not immediately reflected in terms of ‘true’ urbanism (Morris 1991, 41). It seems doubtful, however, that the method advised by Hansen (distinguishing what Archaic Greeks called a (p.53) polis in the sense of ‘town’, what Classical Greeks called a polis in the sense of ‘town’, and what modern historians call a ‘town’ and a ‘city’) can avoid the circular reasoning into which this kind of questioning often falls. The fundamental problem, as Robin Osborne lays out in Chapter 1, is rather to know whether it is necessary to free oneself totally from formal analysis of urbanization on the basis of predetermined criteria. Catherine Morgan and J. J. Coulton have contrasted the ‘Weberian’ approach, in which the identification of the urban character of a residential area is made on the basis of a certain number of formal criteria, but where the answers are really already supplied with the questions, and a ‘Durkheimian’ approach in which it is the study of the whole ensemble of social interactions at work in a given region which allows the definition of the urban character of a residential area on the basis of the role that it plays in the region, regardless of formal criteria (Morgan and Coulton 1997, 88–9). This moves the focus from the study of urbanism to the study of urbanization, understood as the ensemble of processes and dynamics which extend beyond matters of urbanism in as far as they can result in different contexts in very different urban forms.

Does this mean that settlement archaeology should no longer be expected to produce indices which allow the identification of towns in a particular region and period, and that we should rather consider settlement archaeology in relation to the evolution of social and political organization? A positive answer to this question might seem to be endorsed by the lapidary formula offered by Marja Vink: ‘The study of plans cannot answer the question what constitutes a “city” or what constitutes urbanization’ (Vink 1997, 113). But this negative statement concerns only a static and purely formal reading of urban plans; other approaches are also possible.

Let us return to Megara. It is known that, although from the beginning the area of practically the whole of the plateau was divided up, only a few scattered plots were originally occupied, and these did not form a dense block in a single part of the settlement but, on the contrary, were spread about the whole urban area (Tréziny 1999, fig. 19). The urban area of Megara was entirely, but not at all densely, occupied at the beginning, and filled up gradually during the first generations. Similarly, it had no monumental buildings until the second half of the seventh century. Given criteria commonly considered essential for a place to qualify as ‘urban’, such as density and the existence of monumental public buildings, does this mean that for more than a century Megara Hyblaea (and with it most colonial cities in the west, founded on the same principles: Fischer-Hansen 1996) was not a town but a sort of large village? This is the position maintained by Antonino Di Vita, who thinks that from the beginning the territory of Megara was in some way ‘inside’ the town: the plots on the plateau were not, in his view, ‘urban’ plots (oikopeda), but each block or half-block (p.54) represented a plot of territory (kleros) assigned to the colonist installed on it to cultivate (Di Vita 1990, 348–50; De Vita 1996, 267–8). The very precise measurements carried out by Henri Tréziny have shown that that is not the case, for the division of the blocks into an exact number of residential plots of the same area was planned from the moment of foundation and was realized gradually (Tréziny 1999, 176–7). Should one conclude from this, with Di Vita, that early Megara, since it did not have the appearance of a town, was not a city either, in the sense that modern historiography uses the word city? That is a rather inappropriate way of framing the question: the organization of the settlement is well suited to a certain phase of city development, but just what organization suits each phase at each period has to be illuminated in order to understand its articulation. Once more, Di Vita’s interpretation rests on a preconception of what a town must be, a preconception which is falsified by close analysis of the urban structure.

The real problem is, therefore, to know the right questions to ask, and the right criteria to apply, in order to understand settlement organization in a particular historical context, both regional and temporal, and to illuminate the whole body of processes which constitute what we call the birth of cities, in the double sense of cities as political entities and as particular ways of organizing space. This is the perspective of the contributions collected by Emmanuele Greco in the rich work La città greca antica: Instituzioni, società e forme urbane (Greco 1999a), and it is that perspective that has inspired the following reflections on three aspects of these processes: the birth of public space, the relations between settlements and their surroundings, and the role of exchange.

Ex pluribus unum?

On the classic model, the creation of public spaces that are clearly differentiated from private space, in particular the agora, is a feature essential to Archaic urbanization. I will not return here to the ambiguity involved in the notion of public space, which can be understood either as space belonging to the people as a whole, which fits well with the Greek notion of what is demosios, or as the space in which public communication takes place, whatever the juridical status of the land involved; both these two ideas are necessary in order to understand the ‘visual semiotic’ of the ancient city (de Polignac 1998; the notion of a visual semiotic I owe to Tonio Hölscher: Hölscher 1998, 104). I restrict myself to adding certain reflections to the increasingly lively debate occasioned by the Archaic agora.

The traditional notion based on the examination of urban plans of the sixth and fifth centuries identifies an agora, the Agora, a civic and economic (p.55) centre, for each city. Even in a case where two agoras (or even three if one includes the Roman period) are known, as at Athens, the standard notion that the effective civic centre moved from the old agora, at the east or northeast of the Acropolis, to the new agora of the Kerameikos, at some much disputed date (for the debate, see Greco and Osanna 1999, 170–2), preserves the idea that there should be only one agora per city. But the data and recent analyses come together to raise questions about this notion, raising the possibility that there may have been a multiplicity of public spaces in some early Archaic cities and that it might not be possible in all cases to identify from the beginning one of these as the ‘true’ and only civic centre.

I suggested that at Megara Hyblaea there is no clear evidence for functional specialization for at least two generations in the two known public spaces, reserved from the foundation, one at the centre of the north-east sector and one at the centre of the north-west sector. In the second half of the seventh century the first of these, identified as the agora, acquires public buildings, and the second acquires the marks of cult activity (votive deposits, followed by a monumental temple, (Figure 3.2b) (de Polignac 1999). In their forthcoming Volume V of the Megara publications, Michel Gras and Henri Tréziny (whom I thank for the information) will present another interpretation and defend the idea that the sanctuary area was a place of cultic activity from the beginning of the city. It remains appropriate to ask, though, whether the first area was ‘the Agora’ from the beginning, or was only one public space among others.

In a parallel move, Emmanuele Greco has developed a very original reflection on the possible co-existence of several agoras at Athens: the old agora or ‘agora of Theseus’, the agora of the Kerameikos, and a third at the west side of the Acropolis, each of them associated with a group of dominant families, their political practices, and the cults they patronized: the organization of Athenian urban space down to the fifth century would thus be closer to that of Republican Rome than to the canon of the ideal Greek city (Greco 1997; Greco and Osanna 1999, 170–5). In this perspective, the agora of the Kerameikos does not appear to have been created once and for all at one particular (uncertain) moment as a replacement for the agora of Theseus as a civic centre. Rather, from the seventh century on, the appearance of various heroic cults on the southern, and perhaps also the western, borders appears to show that this space acquired the public and political role of a ‘proto-agora’ which would be transformed later into a true civic centre by the gradual addition of various monuments and civic institutions (D’Onofrio 2001).

Forms and Processes: Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Urbanization in Early Archaic Greece

Figure 3.2b. Megara Hyblaea (reproduced from de Polignac 1999). Triangles, squares, and circles mark votive deposits of various periods; stars mark sixth-century temples as revealed by finds of architectural terracottas.

Figure 3.3a. Late Archaic and Classical Thasos (map by Tony Kozelj and Manuela Wurch, reproduced from Viviers 2001, with kind permission).

Cases of polycentric Archaic cities seem currently to be multiplying. Here again the colonial world is a good place to start. It now appears that, besides Megara Hyblaea, numerous cities founded in the eighth and seventh centuries (Croton, Sybaris, etc.) initially took the form of distinct sectors or (p.56) districts, each with their own orientation (Fischer-Hansen 1996). One of the most interesting instances is now that of Thasos (Figure 3.3a). The work of Yves Grandjean has shown that, from the seventh century, the Archaic city was made up of at least two separate clusters, each organized around a sanctuary: the quarter of the Artemision and, to the south-west, the quarter of the Herakleion. In order to maintain this bipolar articulation along with an organic unity, Grandjean denied Roland Martin’s idea according to which the Archaic agora was associated with the Artemision (Martin 1978); he suggested instead that the agora was from the beginning in the central position, between the two quarters, that it occupied in the Classical period (Grandjean 1988) (Figure 3.3b and c). But more recent research has undermined this vision of a city articulated around the agora. First, it has revealed traces of walls which, around the middle of the sixth century, separated the Artemision quarter from the rest of the town. The ‘Passage of the Theoroi’, situated (p.57) (p.58) at the south-west of the Artemision quarter, between it and the classical agora, turns out to be only the final state of a gate, dubbed ‘Gate of the Charites’ by its excavators, built into a substantial Archaic wall running from the slopes of the Acropolis to the area of the port (see most recently Blondé, Müller, and Mulliez 2002,256–8). To the north-east too, an enclosure wall descended, perhaps from the Acropolis to the sea, by way of the theatre area, leaving the quarter of the Gate of Hermes outside it (Viviers 1999, 232–6; 2001). Second, traces of a public space have been discovered next to the sanctuary of the Artemision, behind the Gate of the Charites, while geophysical research has shown that the area of the Classical agora was liable to flood and unoccupied in the Archaic period (Blondé, Müller, and Mulliez 2002) (Figure 3.3e).

It is not certain that all the walls uncovered in recent excavations would have been thought of from the beginning or first and foremost as ramparts. The Gate of the Charites, for example, with its cult facilities (niches, eschara) which encroach upon the space for circulation, may have had for a time a ceremonial and symbolic function on the road linking the Artemision to the Herakleion, rather than a practical or defensive function. Nevertheless, it is clear that these facilities give a privileged status to the Artemision quarter, and particularly to the cluster formed by the sanctuary and the space at its foot, which can plausibly be identified as an agora, following Martin’s remarkable intuition. Archaeology here provides evidence of an urban, religious, and political structure which, in the sixth century, emphasizes a sort of ‘upper city’. But if one turns attention to the earlier period, it is necessary to pose here the same questions as at Megara Hyblaea: the whole of the urban area is occupied from the seventh century, even if not in any dense way, but the physical separation between the poles is very marked, with the depression in which the classical agora will be installed being liable to flooding and left empty; the Artemision quarter, squeezed between the Acropolis and the sea, was rather open on the sea side, while the Herakleion quarter was clearly more open on the land side. And since the Herakleion plays for its quarter the same role as the Artemision plays for its quarter, one has to wonder whether the public space of the Artemision was from the beginning the agora for all the city, or whether only the inhabitants of this quarter itself had the privilege of access to an agora, or again whether each quarter, in addition to its own sanctuary, also had a central public space (Figure 3.3d).

Forms and Processes: Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Urbanization in Early Archaic Greece

Figures 3.3b-3.3d. Alternative configurations of the civic centre of early Archaic (seventh and early sixth-century) Thasos: b, according to Martin/Pouilloux; c, according to Grandjean; d, a new hypothesis.

Forms and Processes: Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Urbanization in Early Archaic Greece

Figure 3.3e. Late Archaic Thasos (second half of sixth century): new finds and a new hypothesis.

The development of Thasos fits with neither of the two models of urban development currently on offer. It does not fit the model of gradual urban growth outwards from a central nucleus of dense settlement. But it also fails to fit the model of a town which is sparsely occupied, but from the beginning occupies the whole urban area and has a clearly defined centre (the site of the classical agora), which guarantees a homogeneous, egalitarian, even, one might say, isonomic articulation between the different sectors. This type of (p.59) (p.60) dispersed urban plan is often interpreted as reflecting a rather loose integration of different social groups within the early colonial city of the seventh century. The founding of these cities seems indeed often to have brought together groups very varied in origin and status which did not fuse immediately into a single, perfectly homogeneous, corporate social and civic body (Fischer-Hansen 1996, 345; de Polignac 1999, 226–7). This is, in fact, the way in which Grandjean explained the bipartite structure he perceived at Thasos. But other factors also may need to be taken into account.

The analysis of colonial cities makes it possible to survey with new eyes certain cities of the Greek Aegean whose highly dispersed settlement structure has long been recognized, though without questioning the idea that each of these cities was in fact organized around a single centre—sanctuary and/or agora: Corinth, Miletos, Athens doubtless, but also more modest cities like Thespiai. In the absence of sufficient evidence it is sometimes difficult to know whether the dispersed traces do indeed represent urban nuclei associated with particular sanctuaries and cemeteries, and separated by areas more or less empty of settlement, analogous to the famous villages or obai traditionally held to have constituted early Sparta, or whether they are simply fragments of a loose but continuous web of settlement, as in the colonial foundations (Longo 1999: 187–90). The clearest case is that of Corinth where the area of the Roman Forum, and perhaps the border of the plateau a little further to the north, the sector of the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore on the slopes of Acrocorinth, and finally the sector to the west in which the so-called Potters’ Quarter later developed, appear to have constituted in the eighth and seventh centuries so many nuclei of settlement sharply separated by uninhabited areas (Roebuck 1972; Morgan and Coulton 1997, 94–5; Osanna 1999, 141–5; traces of activity have also been found further east, in the Panaghia field: Morgan 2003, 57 and fig. 2.5) (see Figure 3.1b). Each of these quarters seems to have been provided with its own cemetery and cults; these are well attested in the area of the Forum and that of the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, and the discovery in the Potters’ Quarter of a large number of terracotta model ships, characteristic of Archaic votive deposits, could also be evidence of a cult in that region, if it is accepted that this region was indeed a settlement with no craft specialization (Williams 1982, 18; and for the ship models Johnston 1985 nos 33–48). But the Forum area has, or acquires, a status apart at the end of the Geometric period: burials of a strongly aristocratic type continue to be made there despite the growth of the North Cemetery around the middle of the eighth century, and the construction of the first temple of Apollo at the beginning of the seventh century reveals the central role that this area plays in the city.

The existence of dispersed settlement nuclei does not undermine the claim that the city existed as an entity, but it does raise the question of the (p.61) nature of the relations between the different parts that constitute the city (see also Morgan 2003, 57–60). That depends in large part, as with public spaces, on the interpretation that one gives of the way in which collective facilities such as cemeteries and cult sites were used: were they used on the basis of a simple logic of local proximity, so that each cemetery and each sanctuary served the quarter next to which or in which it was found, or was there a logic of functional specialization on the scale of the city as a whole, or a combination of the two? If, as Pfaff (1999) has suggested, the cult of Demeter and Kore was practised first in a domestic context, does the transition to the provision of a proper sanctuary at the end of the Geometric period mean that the cult was opened up to a larger group of women representing the whole city? Was the North Cemetery, which is equidistant from the Forum area and from the Potters’ Quarter, from the beginning common to the whole city, and if so, on what criteria was the decision made to bury in this cemetery or in the local cemeteries like that at Anaploga?

The same questions can be asked in other cities, for example in Athens with regard to the Kerameikos cemetery which, during the whole Protogeometric and Geometric period, could only with difficulty be considered a local cemetery (by contrast, for example, with the cemetery of the north slope of the Areopagos) since it is far from the settlement—particularly if one credits the literary tradition according to which the early settlement of Athens extended to the south of the Acropolis (Figure 3.4). Sanne Houby-Nielsen has shown in convincing fashion that in the Archaic period the placing of burials only occasionally reflects lineage, and often reveals grouping of individuals by status, gender, or age (Houby-Nielsen 1995); it is therefore possible that the Kerameikos functioned at the level of the entire city, perhaps from the Geometric period on, as a privileged place of public commemoration by their oikos of certain deceased members (de Polignac 1998, 96–8; Greco and Osanna 1999, 164). In any case, from the end of the Geometric period and during the Archaic period a funerary geography can be observed at Athens according to which the different cemeteries radiating out from the city each expressed, by the make-up of the people they welcomed (and particularly by the variable proportion of very young children), by the types of arrangements, rites, and offerings, one or another aspect of civic ideology (martial values, domestic values, reproductive capacity). This form of specialization implies the breakdown of the simple logic of proximity (Houby-Nielsen 1996).

Figure 3.4. Geometric Athens (ninth and eighth centuries): the cemeteries (after Travlos).

Neither dispersal nor clustering, neither regularity nor irregularity of settlement, are, therefore, determining criteria of urbanization. Such criteria are rather to be sought in the degree of integration and functional specialization of different types of arrangement which can be analysed according to the logic of locality (even in a nucleated settlement), the logic of the whole (even (p.62) in a dispersed settlement), or even a mixture of the two logics. This demands an in-depth comparative study which goes beyond the simple fact, insufficient in itself, of the appearance of a public space, of a cult place, or of a new cemetery. What is more, as previously underlined, this analysis cannot be limited to the immediate surroundings of the city. With regard to Athens, Houby-Nielsen has emphasized that the cemeteries which specialized in the burial of very young children were those placed on the roads leading to sanctuaries particularly concerned with women (Demeter, Artemis Brauronia) (Houby-Nielsen 1996, 246–50, 253). Besides relations of the sort which unite different quarters and their respective inhabitants around the ‘centre’, it is necessary always to ask how the parts of the town relate to the surrounding countryside, so as to put an end, once for all, to the separation between the analysis of urban forms and the general study of use of space.

A Heterogeneous Space

A territory is no homogeneous entity, no perfect circle where, on the model of the Platonic conception of the city, the relations between the centre (the (p.63) town) and its circumference are everywhere identical. The forms of urbanization which interest us here do indeed coincide with the processes of reorganization of the territory and of its structure which, from the eighth century, introduce differentiation, sometimes accentuating pre-existing hierarchies (as in Boiotia: Bintliff 1999, 7), and sometimes modifying the divisions and spatial orientations (as at Corinth where the emergence of Corinth itself changes the equilibrium in a region previously centred on Isthmia: Morgan 1994, 122). These two associated phenomena belong to the same movement that also brings the emergence of major centres of power which reorganize the whole range of local and regional relations around them, and constrain minor centres to position themselves in this evolution by creating a hierarchy of sites and of relations among their élites. It is this emergence that constitutes what it has become customary to call the origin or birth of the city. It is impossible to separate the evolution of urban centres from the overall process of organization of territory. The control of access to particular resources, the emergence of large territorial sanctuaries which direct the flow of circulation and the means of social communication in the city and outside the city, the limitation of conflicts, or indeed, by contrast, of customary meeting places and places for exchange, to particular border areas, the formalization of bonds of dependence between a major site and minor sites—these are some of the factors which, when it comes to the representation of space, give particular interest and importance to certain parts of the territory and, in consequence, are liable to have repercussions on the life and organization of central settlements, and especially the urban areas which are in close connection with those parts of the territory. What has been said above about cemeteries is only one aspect of a vast and long process of organization of axes of communication, involving selection or interpretation of monuments which are found alongside those axes, whether in the town itself or as one leaves it, according to the symbolic significance possessed by the destination of the axis in question, particularly if that destination was a major sanctuary or a region rich in mythological evocations (Hölscher 1998, 67–83).

But the question can be put in a manner different again. The close relation between Corinth and the Isthmia sanctuary from the late Geometric seems to have been of interest primarily to the Corinthian aristocracy, whose presence is particularly clear in the area of the Roman Forum. The visible manifestation of this link, in terms of urban development, is the construction of the first temples in this sector of Corinth and at Isthmia in the first half and around the middle of the seventh century. The orientation of other areas towards other parts of the territory may also imply particular cult links, for example between the inhabitants of the western quarter and the cult practised on the summit of Mount Apesas, at the junction of the Corinthia, the Nemea Valley, and the territory of Phleious (de Polignac 2002), or the cult of (p.64) Poseidon, whose existence is suggested by the terracotta plaques found at Penteskouphia, at the south-west of Acrocorinth. At the level of the whole territory, also, the question of whether cults should be interpreted as following a logic of proximity, a logic of topographic orientation, or a logic of differentiation and symbolic specialization, such as that which Morgan has established in the Corinthia between Isthmia, Perachora, and Solygeia (Morgan 1994; 2002), is important if we are to understand the relationship between what happens in the town and how the territory is organized.

The heterogeneity of space is equally fundamental from the point of view of access to resources. It is known, for example, that the town of the eighth and seventh centuries is the place of residence of peasants exploiting the surrounding land. In the absence of dispersed rural settlement, of which archaeological surface survey has revealed no traces until the sixth century (and even the isolated agricultural establishments which burgeon in very many regions from the end of the Archaic period demand interpretation—are they always farms, or also possibly non-residential facilities for processing agricultural products, shelters for slaves, or what? (Osborne 1985, 17–29) ), the exploitation of the territory at this early date was done exclusively from nucleated settlements, cities, or small towns. It is possible to deduce, on the basis of the distance which could be covered each day, various models of the relations between residential centres and territories by drawing circles to represent theoretical catchment areas. Such models doubtless give useful indications, and certainly prove seductive, but they give a homogeneous, uniform, and one-dimensional representation of space and of the relations between town and territory, a representation which is both artificial and potentially misleading. The study of urban space, and particularly of the different areas which make it up, must indeed take account of the variety of ways in which different parts of the territory were able to be used. Such reflections have, to date, been concentrated on particular specialized activities, such as the making of pottery: the place of the Potters’ Quarter at Corinth has therefore been related to the possibility of exploiting local clay resources, although some deny this, particularly since there is some doubt whether there was craft specialization in this area (Shanks 1999,42–4). Again, in the case of access to the sea and trade, we have already wondered about the links between the port and the north-east quarter at Megara Hyblaea, and John Papadopoulos has in a similar way suggested that the siting of the new agora of Athens in the Kerameikos was the consequence of transferring port activity from Phaleron to Piraieus (Papadopoulos 1996,112)—a suggestion which ignores, however, the signs of developments in the area at a very much earlier date (see above and also Greco and Osanna 1999, 171–2). But such analyses must be made broader.

The processes of urbanization are indeed often related to the increase of Mediterranean exchange to the extent that such exchange served as a catalyst (p.65) to the reorganization and regrouping of places of production and exchange of goods. It is important to note, however, that the site at which long-distance exchanges are attested earliest and most regularly in the tenth and ninth centuries, the site of Lefkandi on Euboia, has never been considered a suitable candidate for the appellation ‘urban’. This is not so much because of the dispersion of settlement in isolated nuclei, since that is also to be found in the earliest urban levels of large cities, but because of the apparent absence of any sign of collective organization able to function for the whole community. Involvement in exchange of goods does not necessarily lead to the development of an urban structure, something explained by the fact that part of these exchanges may have been undertaken in the context of personalized relationships, whether of hospitality, gift-exchange, reprisals, or whatever, which were part of more general social practices. It is therefore instructive to note that Lefkandi disappeared precisely in the eighth century, probably to the profit of Eretria, at the point when Mediterranean exchange intensified and changed its nature, ceasing to be so embedded in social relations and acquiring a certain autonomy (Mele 1979).

This coincidence makes some sense if one relates the processes of urbanization not only to commerce but in a general way to the search for increased control of access to resources of whatever nature. The eighth century is, from all points of view, a period of growth and expansion which manifests itself in the quest for new resources and competition among the élites for their control. The development of urban sites seems often to reflect the search for a better control of the most diversified resources. This has already been remarked in relation to the double orientation of the quarters at Thasos, one towards the port and the other towards the land. The dispersed development of the quarters of Corinth may similarly have been the best way of directing part of the network of communication routes at once towards the Isthmus and its ports and, skirting Acrocorinth on both sites, towards the different parts of a territory in the course of consolidation to the south. In Euboia, Eretria offered a much broader range of resources than Lefkandi: besides relations by sea it had, to the east, access to a territory that was much more open and much easier to control than the territory on the left bank of the Lelas, and it also had possibilities of settlement on the other bank of the Euboian channel, in the territory which would later belong to Oropos. It is no paradox to write that, to understand how this diversity may have influenced urbanization at Eretria it is necessary to encompass the settlement discovered by Alexander Mazarakis-Ainian at Oropos, which he identifies with Homeric Graia, and whose creation towards the middle of the eighth century coincides with the beginnings of the organization of space in the Euboian city (see, most recently, Mazarakis-Ainian 2002). This is so not only because some of the architectural forms excavated at Oropos could help us to (p.66) understand the situation at Eretria, such as the apparent confusion of structures in the ‘temenos of Apollo’, where Claude Bérard has been astonished to find none of the clearance necessary to the functioning of a poliad sanctuary (Bérard 1998, 151), but also because the creation of a Graia that was dependent on Eretria may have induced some spatial specialization: in particular, the concentration of workshops on the mainland side of the channel suggests that Graia represented the displacement of the craft activities of the city, a part of Eretria detached in some way upon the other bank, a move bound to influence the organization of the settlement on the Euboian bank. In this perspective, far from being the sign of an absence of urbanization, the scattering of settlements and of their activities would be, at least in some cases, an indication of a coherent organization of space aimed at mobilizing the whole range of resources on which the increase of power of these cities depended.

Very evidently, it would be both absurd and presumptuous to conclude by proposing any particular definition of urbanization in the Greek world. To do so would contradict the reflections presented here: every definition fixes the reality which it attempts to take in hand, but all the analyses offered here tend to insist on the dynamic and mobile nature of what is urban. A focus on notions of town and of urbanization risks isolating one particular dynamic of a body of processes which operate on very different levels (exchange across the Mediterranean, consolidation of territory, local relations, and so on); urbanization is one such process and it must remain integrated with the other processes if it is to be correctly understood. When it comes to the organization of settlements, as for everything else, the Archaic period was, in the fine formulation of Anthony Snodgrass, ‘an age of experiment’ (Snodgrass 1980), and not a matter of the operation of a linear evolution whose principles had been established, once for all, at the end of the Geometric period. But to identify the parameters, rather than the forms, of this experimentation, involves looking well beyond urban space to understand urbanization.


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