The Late Bronze Age in Aiani

by Georgia Karamitrou-Mentessidi,
16 March 2007

Published March 16, 2007
Type Uncategorized
The Late Bronze Age in Aiani

Aiani is located approximately 20 km south of the city of Kozani, in western Macedonia. Aiani thus laid within the region of the ancient kingdom of Elimeia, which together with the other Greek kingdoms of Tymphaia, Orestis, Lyncestis, Eordaia and Pelagonia constituted the ancient Upper (i.e. mountainous) Macedonia. Systematic excavation research in Aiani, which began in 1983, has revealed the architectural remains of large and small buildings, rich in small finds, as well as groups of graves and organized cemeteries dating from the Prehistoric to the Late Hellenistic periods. The Late Bronze Age in Upper Macedonia is marked by the appearance of Mycenaean finds, together with the appearance and spread of matt-painted pottery.

Mycenaean finds
Mycenaean finds have been unearthed in twenty-six sites near nineteen villages in the Kozani prefecture. Graves were recovered in eleven of the sites, the rest of the sites yielded just pottery, which in eleven cases came from habitation layers. Examples of the finds shown here are: the mouth of a pithos with linear painted decoration, and a cemetery with Mycenaean grave goods at Aiani; a Mycenaean figurine from Ano Komi; and similar cemeteries at Ano Komi, Rymnio, and Sparto in the riverine and lacustrine area around the middle reaches of the Aliakmon river and at Trigoniko. Excavations in recent years have produced growing evidence of Mycenaean presence in all of Macedonia. I have expressed the view that the numerous Mycenaean finds indicate that Mycenaeans had established settlements of some kind in this area, although the question will be the subject of future investigations and studies. This view may be upheld with regard to the area around Aiani and the middle reaches of the Aliakmon river in particular. This area is very close to Thessaly and would naturally have developed a network of mutual contacts and influences, as was the case in earlier periods from the Neolithic onwards (cp. prehistoric finds from Servia, for instance, known since 1909, and from Pondokomi slightly farther away, discovered during recent investigations) and also in later periods until the historical era. I realise that ‘Mycenaean presence’ is a complex phenomenon, and it is difficult to conclude that the prevalence of Mycenaean elements in an area is necessarily due to Mycenaean presence. On the other hand, I do not believe that simplifying the interpretation will bring us any closer to the truth and to what actually happened.

Matt-painted pottery
Also known as Macedonian matt-painted ware, north-western matt-painted ware, Doric ware or Boubousti ware (after the excavation site, now Platania near Voio, where Heurtley discovered it in 1927), pottery with matt-painted decoration is widespread in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. Most of the find-spots are concentrated in Western Macedonia (45 in the Kozani prefecture alone), especially along the river Aliakmonas, spreading into Epiros and Albania as far as Korçë and sporadically into south-western Albania (the tumuli in the Drin valley), Pelagonia, Central Macedonia as far as the river Strymon, and south into Thessaly, Elasson, and Marmariani – a dissemination which is presumably due to the constant movement of pastoral populations. Scholars of both earlier and modern times believe that the pottery was manufactured by the north-western Greek tribes, Herodotus’ ‘widely roaming nation’ (1.56). Among these tribes he includes the Macedonians and the Dorians, who, he says, travelled from the south northwards and also settled in the Pindos mountains. The Spercheios valley is believed to have been a major halting-place in the migrations of the Macedonians and the other north-western Greek tribes; matt-painted ware of the Middle Helladic period has been found at Lianokladi near Lamia.

The earliest date for the appearance of this type of pottery is put at the end of Late Helladic IIIA (late 15th century bc). The latest finds from the archaeological site at Livadia not only confirm the early appearance of Late Bronze Age matt-painted ware (in the 15th century bc) in Upper Macedonia that is contemporaneous with that of Central Macedonia, but they also probably provide reliable evidence for an even earlier dating. The most widely accepted theory today is that this pottery evolved from the Middle Helladic matt-painted ware of southern Greece (19th–16th centuries bc), probably with the influence of some Mycenaean motifs, rather than that it developed out of local imitations of Mycenaean wares. Finds made in Aiani attest the existence of a pioneer workshop that produced large quantities of wares of outstanding quality, some of which have already been located in neighboring areas. Dozens of large and small items are decorated in a distinctive manner, which lends support to the argument that this pottery is directly connected with similar ware of the Middle Helladic period. It has a two-color decoration on a smoothed lustrous surface of brownish-red and brownish-black tin glaze applied before firing, and may be regarded as a survival of a similar type of Middle Helladic pottery. Owing to the contemporary Mycenaean pottery, this specific category of matt-painted ware from Aiani is probably earlier than that which has been found in Macedonia to date, and it supports the view that its origins should be sought in Upper Macedonia and that it spread from there. This theory is further strengthened by the density of the finds throughout all of Western Macedonia and also by the fact that they continue during the subsequent period. This stands in contrast to Central Macedonia, where data so far show that there was not a great deal of matt-painted ware there during the Early Iron Age.

The finds from Aiani finds leave no further room for doubt that the north-western matt-painted ware was brought from the south by people returning to the north and north-west (to Aiani in the 15th century bc), after having moved south at a much earlier date or having moved back and forth owing to their pastoral economy and their nomadic lifestyle. These people were none other than the Macedonians of the historical period, whom the literary tradition directly associates with the Dorians. Hence, the Aiani’s finds provide one more argument against the old (in any case untenable) theory of a massive Dorian invasion at the end of the second millennium.


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Cite this article (MLA style):

Karamitrou-Mentessidi, G. “The Late Bronze Age in Aiani.” 16 Mar. 2007. In: Horejs, B. – Pavúk, P. (eds.): Aegean and Balkan Prehistory. (29 Aug. 2019).