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ERETRIA Euboia, Greece.

The ancient city is partially covered by the modern village of the same name, some 18 km SE of Chalkis on the S-central coast of the island. The site is dominated by a prominent acropolis at the N and extends over an area of more than 80 ha, roughly delimited by the course of the ancient city walls. The archaeological remains are the most extensive in Euboia.

First mentioned in the Homeric Catalogue of Ships (Il. 2.537: Eretria), there is a growing body of evidence to indicate that the site was occupied throughout most of the Bronze Age. Problems related to the location of Strabo's “Old Eretria” (9.2.6)—now thought by some to be at the nearby site of Lefkandi—still remain unsettled. With the dawn of the historical period, Eretria—along with its neighbor, Chalkis—appears among the leading cities of Greece in establishing colonies abroad. This contributed to a bitter rivalry between Chalkis and Eretria, manifested at home in a war over the control of the fertile coastal strip centering upon the Lelantine plain. The Lelantine War, which seems to have taken place at or near the end of the 8th c. B.C., may have resulted in a certain decline in the status of Eretria. But recent excavations have brought to light considerable evidence of occupation on the site in the 7th and 6th c. Near the end of the 6th c., Eretria supported the revolt of the Ionian Greek cities from Persian subjugation. This resulted in the destruction of the city at the hands of the vengeful Persians in 490 (Hdt. 6.43-44). Herodotos (6.99-101, 119) tells us that the temples were plundered and burned and many of the inhabitants taken captive and carried off to Persia. The city seems to have recovered somewhat for it managed to contribute both ships and men to the Greek forces in 480-479. After the Persian Wars, Eretria became a member of the Delian Confederacy and generally remained loyal to Athens until 411. At that time the Euboian cities revolted, and there is some evidence to indicate that they formed a league with Eretria at its head. Eretria supported Sparta through the balance of the Peloponnesian War but was back on good terms with Athens by the early 4th c. Thereafter its allegiance vacillated between Athens and Thebes until—by the end of the 4th c.—it had come under the thumb of the Macedonians and was to remain so for the next 100 years or more. Eretria came to be the most important city in Euboia in the late 4th and early 3d c., by which time its influence extended over most of S Euboia. The city flourished in the 3d c. and was the home of a well-known school of philosophy under the direction of Menedemos. But the great days of Eretria came to an end with a major destruction at the hands of a Roman-Pergamene coalition in 198 B.C. (Livy 32.16). Although the city was rebuilt and the site continued to be occupied for some time thereafter, no major monuments can be assigned to this period and it does not seem to have regained its old importance.

Sporadic excavation has been carried out since the later 19th c. These investigations have uncovered the remains of numerous graves (including a well-built tomb of the Macedonian period a short distance to the W of the ancient town), large stretches of the city wall, a theater, a gymnasium, a Thesmophorion, a bathing establishment, a fountain-house, a tholos, a number of houses, and several temples or shrines (dedicated to Apollo Daphnephoros, Dionysos, and Isis), as well as lesser monuments. No clear-cut remains of the agora have yet been reported.

The current excavations have been largely confined to the areas of the temple of Apollo Daphnephoros near the center of the ancient town and a major gate in the NW sector of the city. The Temple of Apollo—now visible only in its foundations—was first exposed around the turn of the century, but recent investigations have clarified its chronology and many details of construction. A peripteral temple of the Doric order, it seems to have been erected in the late archaic period (530-520 B.C.) but was razed shortly thereafter in the Persian destruction of 490. It is to this structure that the well-known pedimental group of Theseus and Antiope in the Chalkis Museum belongs. Recent excavation has shown that the 6th c. temple had several precursors including an early archaic hecatompedon of the Ionic order (670-650 B.C.), and a small apsidal “shrine” of the 8th c. The latter is the earliest building yet found at Eretria. All of the structures in this sequence are thought to have served in the worship of Apollo Daphnephoros.

One of the most striking monuments at Eretria is the ancient theater, lying at the SW foot of the acropolis. A noteworthy feature of the complex is a subterranean vaulted passage which led by means of a stairway from the center of the orchestra to the stage building. It is thought that such an arrangement facilitated the sudden appearance of actors from the underworld. This structure seems to have been erected in the late 4th c. and serves as one of the best examples of the Greek theater during the Hellenistic period. The remains of a small temple and altar of Dionysos lie a short distance to the S of the theater.

The site is dominated by the acropolis, from which the visitor gains a magnificent view of the S Euboian Gulf and the mainland beyond. Of particular interest here are the walls and towers which represent some of the best preserved examples of Classical Greek masonry. Although there is some evidence of the use of the acropolis during the Mycenaean period, the fortifications probably range in date from no earlier than the archaic period through Hellenistic times.

A line of fortification can be traced intermittently from the acropolis along the W side of the city to a point just SW of the theater. Here lies a major gateway (W Gate) through which the ancient road to Chalkis and the Lelantine plain must have passed. The most recent excavators have concentrated much of their efforts upon the investigation of the W Gate and its environs. These investigations have shown that the major gate of the early Classical period (ca. 480 B.C.) overlay a gate and fortifications of the 7th c., which are among the earliest known fortifications of post-Bronze Age Greece. To the S of the W Gate, a complex of burials (both inhumation and cremation) within a modest architectural setting has been identified as a heröon. The rich finds from this area, whose foundation goes back to the 8th c., testify to the far-flung commercial activities of Eretria at that time. The heröon seems to have been incorporated into a Hellenistic structure of palatial proportions (“Palace I”), which may have belonged to the descendants of those who were buried in the heröon. An even larger and more impressive complex (“Palace II”), probably of the 4th c. B.C., has been exposed farther to the S.

Apart from the pedimental sculpture from the Temple of Apollo Daphnephoros in the Chalkis Museum, all of the finds from the excavations at Eretria are now housed in a small museum on the site.


F. Geyer, Topographie und Geschichte der Insel Euböa (1903); K. Schefold et al., preliminary reports on current excavations in AntK 7 (1964)PI; K. Schefold, “The Architecture of Eretria,” Archaeology 21 (1968)MPI; P. Auberson, “Temple d'Apollon Daphnéphoros,” Eretria 1 (1968)PI; I. Metzger, “Die hellenistische Keramik in Eretria,” Eretria 2 (1969)I; P. T. Themelis, Ἐρετριακά, ArchEph (1969, publ. 1970)PI; C. Bérard, “L'Héroon à la Porte de L'Ouest,” Eretria 3 (1970)PI; P. Auberson & K. Schefold, Führer durch Eretria (1972)MP; L. Sackett & M. Popham, “Lefkandi: A Euboean Town of the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age,” Archaeology 25 (1972)MI.


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