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Ancient Cemetery Discovered on Thassos – Update

An ancient Greek cemetery from the Hellenstic period (323 -31 BCE) has been discovered on the island of Thassos, just outside Limenas (Thassos Town), which was in ancient times, and still is, the capital of the island.

The site is near the Fourkos Hotel, on the outskirts of the town and was discovered during archaeological assessment of the site. In Greece, prior to the new development of any land, an official evaluation of the area has to be undertaken to confirm that the site is not of archaeological significance.

The cemetery is extensive with dozens of burials, most of which are of the ‘cist’ type and contained interred bodies. However, there are also a number of small ‘cist graves’, which were likely constructed to contain cremation urns. All the burials have employed the local pure white marble in their construction.

In the middle of the excavations, there are a number of high status burials of both the ‘cist’ and ‘sarcophagus’ type. Two large ‘cist’ burials have steps up to marble paving that surrounds both burials, emphasising the importance of the deceased. At the far corners, there are marble slabs, which once were the base for funerary sculptures, possibly statues.

Behind the raised platform are two large ‘sarcophagus’ burials that are physically connected, a third ‘cist’ burial is in very close proximity, pointing to the likelyhood this is a ‘family plot’.

In one of the ‘cist’ graves, on an internal wall, there is an inscription in Greek and an engraved image of a bay leaf, sistrum and a basket. The bay was a plant that was dedicated to the god Apollo and as a symbol of protection. Remnants of sprigs of bay have been found in many ancient graves.

The ‘basket’ was likely an image portraying the food that would be taken into the after-life.

Ancient sistrum

The sistrum was a musical instrument most often associated with ancient Egypt, but also commonly used in Greek music. When shaken, the small rings or loops of thin metal on its movable crossbars produce a sound that can be from a soft clink to a loud jangling. Indeed, many sistrums and similar musical instruments have been found in Greek graves, pointing to a belief that music was an important part of the after-life.

 

Regarding the Greek inscription, I will be endeavoring to translate it in full, but it is in poor condition. There is the surname ‘Chrisarion’ (a Roman name) and what seems to be the word ‘Happy’.

Finally, it has to be noted that Cassius (Gaius Cassius Longinus), one of the leading assassins of Julius Caesar, was buried in Limenas by Brutus his partner in the crime, after his defeat and subsequent suicide at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE. However, it is unlikely his grave out of the many around Limenas will ever be identified.

Some websites state that an English archaeologist, James Theodore Bent, had discovered the “Tomb of Cassius” on Thassos in the late 1800’s. This relates to an article published in the New York Times in 1902. However, the story was posted 5 years after the archaeologist’s death and many years after he is said to have visited Thassos. We can find no published report from Mr. Bent pertaining to this, which is highly surprising as this would have been a major archaeological discovery! They obviously had ‘fake news’ even in the 1900’s! As to other published reports that there are artefacts from Cassius’ tomb in the museum on Thassos, these are again totally false.

November 27: After a meeting at the museum this morning, we have been asked not to post any further details until the official report is pubished, hopefully at the end of the year, or early in 2019.

 

 

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