Heraia in Arcadia

Our knowledge of the ancient city of Heraia in Arcadia remains fragmented. Most of the information we get for this ancient city are coming from historical narratives and tours, rather than from results of excavation works. Pausanias in his Arcadian tours (8.26.1-4) was the first to refer to the ancient city of Heraia. At the dawn of the 19th century Martin Leake followed Pausanias travelogue. Approximately a century later, in 1930 Alexander Filadelpheus directed the only excavation project that has been conducted until today. Excavation works lasted for forty-five days overall, and brought to light valuable but also scattered data for this ancient city. Architectural remains of the ancient city of Heraia are not visible nowadays. The highest density of archaeological finds is identified at the modern village of St. Ioannis and at cultivated fields at the western and southern slopes of the village. Architectural remains were also recorded between the villages Kakouraiika and Kokora, both of which were associated with the city Meleneai.

According to historical references, Heraia was built at the northern and the eastern areas of Alpheus River, fifteen stadia off Ladonas River. The ancient city was spread from the region of Loutra to that of Palaiokastro, while it was also adjacent to Megalopolitida and surrounded by a network of mountainous sites (such as Palaiokastro, Elliniko, and Ohthia). From the 7th century B.C. Hraia was steadily developed to an important and powerful city in Archadia.

Based on Pausanias descriptions there were four temples built at the ancient city of Heraia: the temple of Dionysus, the temple of Pan, the temple of Hera, and one temple dedicated to Asclepius children. In 1930 Alexander Filadelpheus started his excavation works by investigating a series of different research regions at the area between the villages Loutra and Kakouraika, at the lower slopes of the eastern and north-eastern Alpheios banks. The vantage point of his research was the site Palioekklisia, where he identified the foundation remains of an ancient temple. Filadelpheus excavation works brought to light the broad entrance of the main temple chamber, and fragments of a Doric capital. He identified the excavated remains of the temple with one of the temples mentioned by Pausanias. Due to the lack of inscription remains or any other characteristic elements he was unable to identify in which of the four deities this temple was dedicated to. Sixty metres westwards of the remains of the excavated temple another building came to light. This is a long megaron-like structure divided by vertical walls that formed four different sized rooms. The form of the building that holds elements of both an arcade and a private house makes the identification of its use ambiguous. Room access was possible from the north and the south side of the building, while the main entrance was placed at the centre of the building. A single Ionic column of the building was badly preserved. A large number of portable finds, such as coins, nails, lead fragments, potsherds and clay weights, were unearthed at the backfilling of the building. Finds are dated in late antiquity, roman and byzantine times. Thirty metres southwest of this megaron-like structure a small-sized building came to light. This is a rectangular structure that was considered as a hypocaust, which is a typical construction during roman times. It is likely that this construction is associated with the megaro-like building. Close to the hypocaust a rectangular shape mosaic, sized 5.00 x 5.50 m., is recorded. The identification of this mosaic indicates possible evidence of a private house/villa or a megaron. Alongside the mosaic a small-sized cistern was also unearthed.

Σε απόσταση 30 μ. νοτιοδυτικά του μεγαρωειδούς αυτού κτηρίου αποκαλύφθηκε μικρό, ορθογώνιο κτήριο το οποίο αναγνωρίστηκε ως υπόκαυστο που συνιστά τυπική κατασκευή κατά τους ρωμαϊκούς χρόνους. Η κατασκευή αυτή ενδεχομένως σχετίζεται με το παρακείμενο κτήριο που περιγράφηκε παραπάνω. Σε μικρή απόσταση από το υπόκαυστο ήρθε στο φως ψηφιδωτό σε αρκετά καλή κατάσταση διατήρησης, τετράγωνου σχήματος, και μεγέθους 5,00 x 5,50 μ. Παραπλεύρως του ψηφιδωτού εντοπίστηκε δεξαμενή μικρών διαστάσεων η οποία διέθετε σωλήνα εκροής υδάτων και ήταν επιχρισμένη με ασβεστιτικό κονίαμα. Ο εντοπισμός του ψηφιδωτού μαρτυρεί την πιθανή ύπαρξη μιας μεγάλης ιδιωτικής κατοικίας ή μεγάρου.

Several decades of archaeological inactivity followed the short excavation season conducted by Alexander Filadelpheus in 1930. Three Mycenaean cemeteries are recorded close to the ancient city of Heraia. One of these was found in the 1980s by Theodoros Spyropoulos, the former Ephorate of E’ EPKA, after having excavated 100 Mycenaean graves at the site Palaiopyrgos, western of Palaiokastro. The excavation results remain unpublished. One more Mycenaean cemetery is identified as a result of the excavation of one single grave that was part of a larger grave cluster at St. George hill, while another cemetery is recorded at St. Athanasios at Kakoraiika.

In 2005 Dr. Anna-Vasiliki Karapanagiotou, Ephorate of Antiquity in Arcadia County, organized the last archaeological expedition in the region to date. After visiting and surveying at St. George hill she identified the remains of a chambered grave along with evidence of six more graves of the same type. This evidence strongly supports the identification of a cemetery and indicates the location of a new Mycenaean site in Arcadia.


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