Hellenistic villa

Liotopi.thumbnailAt the area known as Liotopi Routsheli, at the 85th klm of the modern National Road from Thessaloniki to Kavala, about 2 km. to the east of Asprovalta, a building of Late Classical-Early Hellenistic date was excavated during work on laying the modern Egnatia road. An independent, well-designed complex covering a total area of more than 0.35 hectares in the lower foothills of mount Kerdyllia, it enjoys an outstanding panorama of the Strymonikos gulf stretching before it and a commanding view of the narrow plain between the sea and the mountain.

Founded directly on bedrock, it is built for the most part of large unworked stone blocks. At the corners and thresholds, and at points where the walls bind together, these blocks are dressed on one or more sides to create a flatter surface, so as to create a better joint. At several points, the bedrock itself was utilized and its faces slightly dressed to give it the dimensions of the wall, where it is visible above the level of the foundations.

Three main building phases separated by short intervals of time have been identified in the complex. In the first period, the farmhouse had a square plan and relatively small rooms, and took the form of a porch measuring and covering an area of 76.89m2. This stood in front of a long rectangular courtyard on to which faced rooms at the east and south. During this phase, the entrance was on the east. At this stage, the farmhouse had many points of similarity with the well-known country house at Vari in Attica.

It very soon became clear that the building was inadequate for the needs of the occupants, and it was radically redesigned. In this second phase, the former porch, now a central two-storey building-tower, was given a double, reinforced security entrance on the south, with a labyrinthine plan and a gate at the side for purely defensive purposes. Paved open-air corridors encircle this central tower-house.

To this area should be added the 456 m2 of a courtyard measuring 16×28.5 m. at the east, and another courtyard to the north with an area of 440 m2. This gives a total of 0.35 hectares for the known area to have been occupied by the complex. Both courtyards are bounded by large unworked blocks and use the bedrock as a floor. On the north side of the north court is a wall parallel with the exterior wall and a rudimentary floor. Their function has not been established, but they were probably used for feeding and stabling animals.

In a third building phase, rooms were added to the south of the complex measuring an area of 89.675 m2, and an area of 26.98 m2, giving the entire complex with the central tower-house and surrounding rooms an area of 914.65 m2. One of these additional rooms it should have been used as a kitchen by the central hearth excavated in it.

In the final building phase of the complex a small roofed antechamber was added in front of the entrance. This projected from the exterior west wall of the complex and lent the entrance a monumental aspect, as well as offering protection from outdoor weather to those entering and leaving the complex.

At the south-east and south-west, very close to the complex, a further two rooms were excavated that have the plan of a temple, though they have yielded no smal1 finds to corroborate this interpretation. They could just be small guard-posts to protect the complex. Near to southern room was uncovered a deposit encircled by a circular rubble construction, the function of which is again difficult to determine. It is possibly a relic of cult practices and was an open-air shrine located outside the complex, though a more practical, agricultural use cannot be ruled out. It could just as easily have been a threshing floor, in which the annual cereal.

The excavation, particularly in the rooms, found not many small finds. So it’s difficult to understand their use. Some of them, like the room to the south of the west entrance of the complex, were storerooms equipped with large pithoi, one of witch Is set in a cutting in the rock. Some of them had benches cut into the bedrock, which was dressed down to the level of the seat.

It is thus difficult to determine the function of the complex as a whole. Its location and the arrangement of the rooms point to its having been a well-organized country house, without precluding the view that it was used, at least for a time, as a guest-house for travelers passing through the region.

The lamps yielded by the excavation provide a chronological framework between the late 4th century BC and the time of Antigonos Gonatas (227-239 BC). This is supported by the coins, which date from the period of Philip II (359-336 BC) down to about 240-230 BC. The abandonment of the complex should perhaps be associated with the presence of the Gauls in Macedonia.

This country house and the fort excavated in 1992-93 in the area of Vrasna 3 km to the west are two very characteristic examples of large country houses surrounded by rich estates. They provide important evidence for the management of the land in the Late Classical and above all in the early Hellenistic periods, perhaps suggesting a primitive “feudal” system of management.