University excavations at the Asklepieion and the Agora of the ancient city of Epidaurus

Despite the constraints imposed by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the University excavations at the Asklepieion and the Agora of the ancient city of Epidaurus continued during the period of July-August 2020, producing very interesting results. The archaeological investigations in Epidaurus are conducted by Professor Emeritus V. Lambrinoudakis, Assistant Professor St. Katakis (co-directors) and Dr. A. Sfyroera.

In the sanctuary of Asklepios, the excavation of the building that was partly unearthed next to the Tholos last year continued. This new building predates the Tholos; it was located in the same place and had a similar function. It consisted of a ground floor and a basement. This is a very rare architectural type of building. The ground floor consisted of mudbrick walls on a stone platform and was surrounded by a wooden peristyle on stone bases. Under the ground floor, there was a basement of similar dimensions, dug in the natural rock. Its net height was about 2.40 m (fig. 1). The sides of the basement were lined with stone walls coated with mortar of deep red color. The floor of the basement has been preserved almost intact. It is a mosaic of small white pebbles, with painted decoration. It is the largest and best-preserved mosaic floor among the rare specimens of its time. This year’s excavation work revealed the exact inner width of the building in the basement, which was 3.6 m., and that of the ground floor, 8.20 m., including the peristyle. The excavated part of the building has a length of 10.2 m.; but its remnants continue under the unexcavated soil to the west and partly beneath the Tholos (fig. 2). A square recess found this year on the floor of the basement is most probably the trace left from the foot of the staircase leading from the ground floor to the basement (fig. 3). The continuation of the excavation is expected to reveal the full length of the building on its south side and provide further information about its form and function. According to the pottery and other small artifacts found in the excavation, as well as to its architectural form, the building can be dated to the late 7th / early 6th century BC. This was a period of prosperity for the city-stateof Epidaurus according to the literary sources. This new building had apparently the same function and basic structure (the basement) as the Tholos, which replaced it in the 4th century BC. Its discovery contributes significantly to the interpretation of the function of the Tholos as a place of worship of the chthonic substance of Asklepios. It also stimulates the discussion about the early form and organization of the Epidaurian sanctuary, proving that the origin of the cult there dates back to the 7th and not to the 6th century BC. In parallel with the excavation, the study for the most effective restoration and enhancement of the building has begun, in order to make soon this site accessible to the public.

The excavation is funded since 2018 by the “Stavros Niarchos Foundation”. This year's research was carried out in collaboration with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Argolid.

The excavations continued also in the Agora of the ancient city of Epidaurus. The remains of a big fountain house (dimensions 11.3 x 20 m.) dated in the 4th century BC have been discovered at that location. The fountain building had a large pillar tank and water intake area, with ionic style facade and interior with faucets and basins with water in supply (fig. 4). During the 2nd century AD a large stoa was built in the same place. Characteristic findings of the excavation support the hypothesis that this complex of these monuments is related to the sanctuary of Asklepios, which Pausanias had visited in the 2nd century BC, when he entered the city. This year, the excavation revealed the northern part of the stoa in almost its entire length. At the same time, the complex of monuments was liberated from the modern water pipes irrigating the fields in the area and also from the rural road, which crosses the site. Finally, the area under research (~ 2,700 sq. m.) was protected with an elegant enclosure (fig. 5). Among the most interesting findings of this year are: 1) an inscription that mentions the repair of the fountain and its aqueduct in the 1st century BC (fig. 6) 2) and the right foot of a marble statue of an official, which had been found in the same area earlier (fig. 7). The statue dates to the 2nd century AD.

Since 2019, this research project is funded by the “John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation” with a three-year program aimed at highlighting this important complex of monuments.