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Roman-Era Tomb, Theater Found on Greek Island

Mati Milstein in Tel Aviv, Israel
for National Geographic News
April 6, 2007
 
A Roman-era theater and tomb—complete with jewelry, pottery, and bronze offerings—have been unearthed on a Greek island, the country's Ministry of Culture announced this week.

The discovery on Kefaloniá—the first such find on an island in the Ionian Sea, which separates Greece and Italy—may suggest a previously unknown route between the two ancient cultures, the Greek newspaper Kathimerini quoted experts as saying (Greece map).

Located near the village of Fiscardo, an important ancient maritime port, the newly found site measures 26 feet by 20 feet (8 meters by 6 meters) and was apparently overlooked by looters, the culture ministry said.

The find contains five burials, including a large vaulted grave and a stone sarcophagus.

Archaeologists also found gold earrings, rings, and leaves that may have been attached to ceremonial clothing, as well as glass and clay vases, bronze artifacts decorated with masks, a bronze lock, and copper coins, the Associated Press reports.

"It is the first time such a monument is discovered, not only in Kefaloniá but in all the Ionian Sea islands," according to a statement from the Ministry of Culture.

"From the finds so far, we see that Fiscardo was an important naval station between Greece and Italy in antiquity."

"Touching" Details

The front of the tomb is "particularly interesting," with a stone door that still pivots perfectly on two stone points, the ministry said.

"It is a touching detail that the door still opens and closes to this day just as in antiquity," the ministry added.

Nearby excavations have also revealed what may be the remains of a small theater with four rows of seats and an orchestra section that appears to be in "excellent condition."

The theater is similar to Roman-style structures found in Ambracia in western Greece and Alexandria in Egypt.

The Fiscardo site was uncovered during construction in the nearby village. Further excavations are planned to learn more about the new site and to accurately date it.

Ancient Trade

Previous excavations in the area have uncovered remains of houses, a bath complex, and a cemetery, all dating to Roman times—between 146 B.C. and A.D. 330.

But the new find may push back the time Romans were known to have settled on the Ionian islands.

"There are [other] bits of evidence of Romans in the islands in the Ionian Sea," said William V. Harris, a professor of ancient history at New York's Columbia University.

"We know that there were Roman fleets there already in the 220s B.C., so that wouldn't be particularly surprising." (Related: "Giant Roman Shipwreck Yields 'Fishy' Treasure [November 20, 2006].)

"Roman settlers, though, you would only get in the first century B.C. and perhaps a bit in the second as well."

According to Harris, though, the first substantial contact ancient Romans had with Greeks in Greece itself was probably with the Rhodians—a people based in the Aegean Sea to the east of mainland Greece.

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