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Parian Polyandreia: The Late Geometric Funerary Legacy of Cremated Soldiers’ Bones on Socio-Political Affairs and Military Organizational Preparedness in Ancient Greece

Parian Polyandreia: The Late Geometric Funerary Legacy of Cremated Soldiers’ Bones on Socio-Political Affairs and Military Organizational Preparedness in Ancient Greece

By Anagnostis P. Agelarakis. Pp. xii + 396. Archaeopress, Oxford 2017. £45. ISBN 978-1-78491-719-7 (paper).

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This monograph is essentially a bioarchaeological report focusing on two monumental polyandreia (also referred to as common or collective burials) from the Paroikia necropolis on Paros. The necropolis was in continuous use from the late eighth century B.C.E. to the fourth century C.E., and the polyandreia date to the early phase of the cemetery, the last quarter of the eighth century B.C.E. Between them, the polyandreia (designated T105 and T144) contained the cremated remains of approximately 118 individuals, and together they represent the earliest known common burials in the Greek world. As such, the material culture and human remains interred in the polyandreia bear the potential to reveal much about early Parian identity and state formation in the Late Geometric period.

The book begins with an archaeological prolegomenon by Zapheiropoulou, Ephor Emerita of Antiquities in the Cyclades and former excavator at the site, which describes the history of archaeological excavations at Paros. The text is then presented in 10 chapters and 27 appendices. The first chapter, the introduction, outlines the aim and organization of the book. In general, Agelarakis seeks to present the results of bioarchaeological research (i.e., anthropological data, paleodemographic and paleopathological profiles, a tabulation of nonhuman organic and inorganic materials) conducted over the course of three field seasons. Chapter 2 discusses the methods employed in the analyses of the polyandreia. The methods, ranging from cleaning techniques to procedures used in the osteological analyses, are presented in detail, making them easily understood by specialists and nonspecialists alike.

Chapters 3 through 7 focus on the material recovered from T144. In general, the material under study is separated into two categories: vase contents (material contained in the burial urns) and non-vase contents (material found within the burial context but outside the urns). Chapter 3 contains a summary of the osteological data derived from the cremated human remains (i.e., anatomical inventories, demographic and paleopathological profiles) and analyses of associated faunal remains, artifacts, and ecofacts found in the vases. At the end of this chapter, the data discussed in the text is summarized in tables and graphs, and this pattern is repeated for subsequent chapters. Chapter 4 presents metric and statistical analyses of weights and other bone measurements from the vases. Chapter 5 describes additional cremated human remains, faunal remains, and artifacts found within the burial context of T144 but outside the vases, while Chapter 6 contains the metric and statistical analyses of these remains. The last chapter in this section (ch. 7) provides a synoptic discussion of the results presented in chapters 3 through 6.

In the next section, the focus shifts to the material recovered from the second polyandreion, T105. Chapter 8 presents the osteological data derived from the cremated human remains and analyses of associated faunal remains, artifacts, and ecofacts. The metric and statistical data from T105 is found in chapter 9.

Nonspecialists will likely find the concluding chapter to be the most accessible. It provides a synthesis of the osteological and funerary data. Agelarakis’ overarching claim is that the polyandreia contain the remains of Parian war dead. To support his assertion, he summarizes his findings as follows. First, most of the burials (which could contain either single or multiple individuals) were interred upright in amphoras. Domesticated sheep and goats, cremated and placed inside the amphoras, were the most common funerary offerings. Interestingly, the human remains were arranged within the amphoras as if they were standing (i.e., lower limbs on the bottom, torso and upper limbs in the middle, and cranium on top). It is possible that this organization had eschatological meaning, as Agelarakis suggests: “Although they had fallen in battle, the re-assemblage of their ‘second body’, through the funerary rite, was to ensure that they would have been brought again to reerect in Hades” (201). Regardless, the arrangement of the skeletal elements is clearly intentional, because it required the cremated remains to be removed methodically from the pyre and placed in the urn in anatomical order. Potential comparanda for this unique funerary practice is scarce, as many burial urns in polyandreia were previously excavated without attention to internal stratigraphy (e.g., the burials in the polyandreia in the Athenian public cemetery, the Demosion Sema). A parallel for this unique anatomical arrangement, nevertheless, exists in tomb A1K1 of Orthi Petra in Elutherna (ca. ninth to eighth centuries B.C.E.).

Turning to the human remains themselves, there were 118 individuals buried in the two polyandreia. Of these, 117 were male and one was female, and they ranged from approximately 16 to 60 years of age. This age range is similar to that of the individuals interred in polyandreia associated with the Peloponnesian War in the Athenian Demosion Sema. Regarding state of health, those buried in the polyandreia were afflicted with dental diseases, degenerative joint disease (presumably from engaging in habitual load-bearing activities), and skeletal trauma. Instances of skeletal trauma included broken limbs, spinal injuries, and sharp force injuries sustained in armed conflict (some still containing fragments of iron weapons).

The societal implications of the findings reveal that the notion of a shared state identity was present in Paros in the late eighth century B.C.E. The collective interment of the Parian war dead in conspicuous monumental tombs represents a deliberate break in the traditional practice of burying fallen soldiers in family plots. Under this new model, the war dead are symbolically appropriated by the state and their monumental tombs serve as commemorative monuments. Specifically, the tombs transform the landscape and serve as a mnemonic, ensuring that the war dead, and their ultimate sacrifice for the security of the polis, remain fixed in the social memory of the people of Paros and entrenched in political rhetoric.

On the whole, the book is data-rich and dense. Although the explanations provided in each of the chapters are detailed enough to be palatable for a nonspecialist audience, the writing is still technical and jargon-laden, making a difficult read even for a specialist. For this reason, it would have been beneficial to have included concise summaries at the end of each chapter. On the other hand, the 27 appendices that contain all the author’s data are some of the most useful features of the book. This generous gesture of open access makes the book an invaluable tool, as the data presented here are available for other researchers to use comparatively. Thus, this monograph provides us not only with unique insight into Parian identity and state formation in the late eighth century B.C.E. but also will undoubtedly serve as a foundation for future studies of public burial in the ancient Greek world.

Carrie L. Sulosky Weaver
Department of Classics
University of Pittsburgh

Book Review of Parian Polyandreia: The Late Geometric Funerary Legacy of Cremated Soldiers’ Bones on Socio-Political Affairs and Military Organizational Preparedness in Ancient Greece, by Anagnostis P. Agelarakis

Reviewed by Carrie L. Sulosky Weaver

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 4 (October 2018)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1224.suloskyweaver

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