Tenea, a small but prosperous Greek city that once thrived on the Peloponnese, is at the center of several foundational legends. It was said to have been established by prisoners taken captive during the Trojan War, and its residents, according to the ancient Geographer Strabo, made up most of the emigrants who colonized the city of Syracuse.
Through historical references, modern scholars have known about Tenea’s location for many years, but little in the way of archaeological discoveries had been made there. That changed recently, however, when archaeologists found, for the first time, residential remains that testify to the opulent lifestyle of Tenea’s ancient inhabitants.
According to the Associated Press, excavations at the ancient site in September and October unearthed mortar-covered walls and floors made of clay, marble and stone. The rooms dated from the Hellenistic to the Roman period, and were organized with “housing and door openings,” the Greek Ministry of Culture said in a statement. Archaeologists also found a clay pipeline, ceramic utensils and pots, a bone die and more than 200 coins, most of which date to the reign of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, who ruled from 193 to 211 A.D. This suggests, according to the ministry, that the settlement “probably experienced particular economic growth during the [Severan] dynasty.” Strabo notes, in fact, that Tenea fared well under Roman rule, having sided with the Romans during their devastating battle against the nearby city of Corinth.
One of the more remarkable discoveries consisted of a jar containing two human fetuses, which was found in the foundations of one of the buildings. Typically, during the Roman period, bodies were buried outside city walls, but exceptions were made for children, lead archaeologist Elena Korka tells Matthew Robinson of CNN.
More human remains had previously been found in the cemeteries that surround Tenea, where archaeologists had concentrated their efforts prior to the recent excavation. This year alone, seven tombs were discovered, four of which dated to the Roman period, and the other three dated to Hellenistic times. Skeletons belonging to two men, five women and two children were unearthed in the burial grounds; one of the females had been interred with a child.
The burials bolster archaeologists’ theory that Tenea was once a wealthy settlement; the graves were laden with vases, gold, bronze and bone jewellery and coins. According to Reuters, archaeologists also discovered an iron ring engraved with a seal depicting Serapis, a Greco-Egyptian sun deity, and Cerberus, the mythical three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the underworld.
But Tenea’s good fortune eventually started to wane. According to the AP, the town appears to have been damaged in the late 4th century, when the Goths invaded the Peloponnese. Archaeologists believe Tenea was ultimately abandoned in the late 6th century.
"We've found evidence of life and death,” Korka tells CNN’s Robinson, “and all this is just a small part of the history of the place. The coming years will allow us to evaluate where we stand."