Author Archives: youpvandenbeld

Creating Connections

I was provided the opportunity to study in Athens for the past month because of the Goekoop scholarship offered by the NIA and friends (VVNIA). The purpose of my stay was to write the proposal for my MA thesis, for which I am planning to look into the political geography of Bronze Age Laconia; a topic which was still largely unfamiliar to me not too long ago. For this reason, and because this was actually the first time I would be abroad on my own for a prolonged period of time, I was fairly nervous when I arrived.

As I write this blog on my last day in Athens, I remember well how quickly it became apparent that this nervosity was completely misplaced. When I walked into the living room of the Dutch Institute on my first day, I met one of the other residents whom I knew already from an earlier visit and she told me I had come at exactly the right time. The weather in Athens had not been very nice in the previous month, she told me, but this had drastically changed now and summer was finally upon us. To top it off, this is the time in Athens when all the International Schools host their annual parties, which is ideal if you want to meet new people. So we went.

First one on the agenda: the annual party of the Australian Institute with drinks afterwards on the roof terrace of the Swedish Institute (fig 1). As I happily followed my acquaintance around I was introduced to the art of introducing new people at parties where everybody is unacquainted and quickly made some new friends. With these newly made friends I went on to a lovely concert somewhere in Athens on the same night and to many other places since then. One of the beautiful things about Athens is that there are so many lovely places to visit during the weekends so close by. With other students I have explored the archaeological sites on lovely Aegina (and also the beach) on one weekend, the sites of ancient Ramnous (the best preserved deme of Athens; fig. 2) and Marathon (and also the beach) on another, and finally also the Island of Euboea (and the beach).


Fig 1: The views from the roof terraces of the different Institutes are quite enjoyable. This photo was shot from the Italian School.  

The annual parties do not only offer the opportunity for socialising, however. There was also ample room for accounts on the activities undertaken by the institutes in the past year and interesting lectures on funny topics. For example, at the Australian Annual Party, Professor Julia Kindt presented an interesting approach to research on animals in Ancient Greece and introduced me to the concept of the Socratic Gadfly. You know, the concept of a thing that is a bit annoying and constantly stinging your mind, but at the same time supposedly needed and a positive influence on your life. That does make me think of something.. Oh yeah, my thesis.


Fig 2: Ancient Ramnous is the best preserved deme of Attica. The site is so well preserved it feels like you are walking through a little city. Across the water Euboea can be seen.

Apart from playing the tourist and the exchange student, there was also time dedicated to actual studying. As mentioned before, I was not extremely familiar with research into political geographies before I started working on my thesis. Luckily for me, I had been able to acquire a seat as a backbencher on the workshop ‘Political Geographies of the Bronze Age Aegean’ which was organised by the NIA and the EBSA, and which very conveniently took place during my stay in Athens (fig. 3). To me, these two long days of lectures, on which all the experts of this field presented their latest research, served as a sort of crash course which taught me exactly what I needed to know. I penned as fast as I could to note down all the possibilities and pitfalls of this kind of research. What I found particularly interesting was the notion that when discussing politics in the Bronze Age Aegean, we should perhaps speak a little bit less of territorial domination by palaces, and a little bit more about mutual beneficial connections between different people, factions and settlements in a political landscape that is dynamic and not predetermined. To what extent this notion can be explored in Laconia remains to be seen. But I will fly home tomorrow with a good feeling about my thesis and a lot of fine memories about the connections I made myself.

Youp van den Beld


Fig. 3: I was very lucky to be able to attend this very informative workshop. 

The Multifaceted Story of Marathon



The Athenian tumulus on the Marathon plain

The term Marathon can mean many things: it is a famous long distance run, a metaphor for the eternal struggle between the West and the East or the victory of democracy over despotism. All of these definitions eventually lead back to the battle that took place at the plain of Marathon in 490 BC. Where on the 12th of September, the heavily outnumbered Athenians won an unexpected victory over the mighty Persian empire and thereby saved their beloved city.


A partly burned offering given to the Athenian dead, displaying two hoplites.

The first impression of the Marathon plain, after a 42 kilometre drive through the busy streets of Athens and the rough countryside of Attica, is certainly a fascinating one. Being very fertile, the plain appears as a sudden explosion of green with small colourful flowers growing here and there. Standing out is the tumulus built for the fallen Athenian soldiers. The 192 Athenians that were killed in the defence of their city were first cremated and then buried underneath a 10 meter high tumulus with the appropriate  offerings commemorating their bravery.

The story of the Greek victory at Marathon is certainly an epic one. We should, however, always keep in mind that any political connotations inherent to this metaphorical name are deliberate constructs meant to emphasize difference and superiority over others.

Unknown to many, Marathon’s archaeological sites provide more narrative than battle alone. Not far from the Athenian tumulus seven other tumuli are located that are dated to the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1600 BC). These tumuli are filled with multiple tombs and are clearly demarcated from each other, emphasizing continuity and the importance of group identity. Not only are these tumuli used for a long time, they also maintain in use when other groups start using different and more elaborate burial practices, well up into the Mycenaean Period (1600-1100 BC). This showcases that these people made a deliberate choice, in this case of fortitude; to preserve older traditions and to maintain a clear physical connection to their ancestors.


One of the tumuli at Marathon from the Middle Bronze Age. In this case a bigger tumulus is built over and around a smaller earlier tumulus.

Even earlier, Marathon was home to a hybrid culture in the Early Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC). In a time when Greece was mostly divided between Cycladic, Minoan and Mainland societies, the inhabitants of Marathon showed that the only borders in this world are the ones we create ourselves. The contents in the tombs of the spectacular Tsepi cemetery displayed clear influences of different cultural spheres. Other telling elements of this cemetery are its spatial organisation and tomb architecture: almost all tombs are located in neat rows, emphasizing the coherence of the entire community while at the same time all tombs are clearly individually demarcated by a row of stones emphasizing the distinctiveness of the different families. In this way these burials tell us to look after the ones closest to us while at the same remind us that we are always part of a bigger whole. Marathon, therefore, is not only a place that commemorates struggle and difference but also affinity and cohesion.


Several tombs from the Early Bronze Age Tsepi cemetery, the tombs are organised in neat rows and demarcated by a row of stones.