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All that we see or seem: Space, memory and Greek akropoleis

Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift
Författare Robin Rönnlund
Publicerad i Archaeological Review from Cambridge
Volym 30
Nummer/häfte 1
Sidor 37-43
ISSN 0261-4332
Publiceringsår 2015
Publicerad vid Institutionen för historiska studier
Sidor 37-43
Språk en
Länkar https://gup.ub.gu.se/file/164402
Ämnesord akropolis, acropolis, spatiality, borders, boundaries, polis, poleis
Ämneskategorier Arkeologi,klassisk


In times when maps were unknown or rare, other means of setting boundaries and defining and imaging space were used. It is easy for us, in our world of atlases and GPS, to overlook this. The so-called Greek Dark Ages, which followed the collapse of the Bronze Age civilisations, were characterised by a lack of centralised in- frastructure, economy and power. The often small and scattered settle- ments were organised around “big men”, the basilees, whose power, as is often the case in similar societies, was probably based on persuasion rather than threat of violence. Because the population seems to have declined dramatically at the end of the Bronze Age, land was plentiful and likely not a source of conflict. The need to express the spatial lim- itations of fields and pastures was probably minimal in comparison to later periods, and this arguably influenced the ways in which the people of this period regarded space in general. However, this situation changed over time with the development of the early polis, the city state, governed by the institutions of the aristo- cracies. This shift in power did probably not pass unquestioned or unop- posed, and the establishment of the new elite–the polis–was therefore in need of legitimacy. The process of achieving legitimacy was based on the extensive manipulation of memory and control of the things that form people’s ideas about the past: myth, ritual and monuments. The Greek landscape, literally littered with architectural remains of the Bronze Age, was extremely suitable for this purpose: tombs, ruins and ramparts were re-imagined as the remains of a recreated legendary past, and became objects of veneration and ritual. The objective was achieved; the polis’ claim to legitimacy through antiquity was validated and accepted. The growth in population of the polis also led to a change in the way spatiality was regarded. Larger populations required larger harvests, and the existence of an aristocracy required a surplus. Good arable soil soon became more and more valuable, increasing the need to assert ownership of land. The polis solved this by linking the past to the phys- ical landscape, thus expressing their claims to certain territories. But, since the past in itself cannot be seen, it has to be materialised in some way, and it is here that we may seek the origin of the akropolis. In the same way that the Mycenaean tombs were re-imagined as the tombs of heroes, the hilltop remains of Bronze Age fortifications were re-imagined as the dwellings of the legendary ancients. The ruined ramparts became the mythical predecessor of the polis, the akropolis. If the remains were not impressive or visible enough–or even existent– they could be suitably “restored”. With an akropolis on a lofty hilltop, the polis could relay its territ- orial sovereignty into the landscape, concretising the abstract idea of the polis as space. Then, the akropolis, when seen in the landscape, marked the being of the polis as well as the being in the polis.

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