Demetrias in Thessaly: The archaeology of a multi-ethnic port royal port city in the Hellenistic Aegean

demetrias in thessaly

Hellenistic Demetrias, a Macedonian royal foundation in Thessaly, was a military stronghold and thriving entrepôt. Its archaeology is extremely rich but inadequately studied.  

In late 2019 we were invited by Dr Anthi Batziou, Director of Antiquities of Magnesia, to co-direct a major research and publication project on Demetrias, including its famous tombstones, sanctuaries, houses, votive monuments, and craft production. A year later we began, with the help of an award from the John Fell Fund, to do preliminary work on the various excavation contexts of the city, to compile the necessary evidence to determine methodologies and specialists required, and to draw up the necessary time-frame, equipment and costs.  

The ultimate aim of our collaboration is to publish key excavation complexes of the city, as well as important groups of artefacts, and to use this primary evidence to write a new and different history of this city and ultimately the Hellenistic world. This involves evaluating the archaeological evidence in light of recent epigraphic and archaeological discoveries, and scholarly treatises on synoecisms, Hellenistic royal courts, palaces, religious interactions and ethnic mobility.  

Equally important to us is to continue to strengthen our long-standing collaboration and expertise through knowledge exchange, and to disseminate our work to the wider public through seminars, outreach activities, and exhibitions.  

In July 2022, we offered the first field school on ancient Demetrias in Volos, where undergraduate students studying for the degree in Classical Archaeology and Ancient History were trained on pottery analysis and were given seminars and tours of key sites and monuments of Thessaly, as well as Aigai and Pella in Macedonia (the two Macedonian capitals).  

During the last two years, despite delays caused by the pandemic, work in the archives and store rooms of the Volos Archaeological Museum by curators (especially Evangelia Stamelou) and a postdoctoral researcher (Dr Sofia Kravaritou) had fruitful results. We are sharing some of these preliminary results with students and colleagues, at a day conference to be held in the Faculty of Classics on Saturday 29 October 2022. 

The temporary exhibition of images of some tombstones from Demetrias in the Outreach Room has three aims:

  • to display a representative sample of these monuments and their iconography. Text and image reveal the multi-ethnic origin of the deceased and ideal societal roles.
  • To show, how through technical imaging, we can discern details that are not always easily legible with the naked eye.
  • To show how epitaphs and images inform us about cults (Hermes Psychopompos, Isis), religious personnel, and eschatological beliefs (heroization of the dead, aspired immortality of the soul)

 Lincoln College, Faculty of Classics and Univ of Oxford and John Fell Fund, EFA Magnesias, National Archaeological Museum of Athens

We would like to thank R.R.R. Smith, Lydia Matthews, Anna Blomley, Sofia Kravaritou, Edith Johnson, Nikki Carter, Sofia Papamargariti, Thanos Eythymiopoulos, Evangelia Stamelou, Ioanna Ninou, George Kavvadias, Christina Avronidaki, Stelios Ieremias and Anna Dalgkitsi.

marias logos for demetrias