THALES - UOA - The Apollo Sanctuary and the Late Roman Settlement in Halasarna (Kos). The history of an ancient sanctuary, its decline & its final transformation into a Late Roman/Early Christian settlement.

Aims and objectives

Despite the fact that Kos was in ancient times an important commercial center, it still remains, from the archaeological point of view, one of the least well known islands of the Aegean. Especially the area outside of the boundaries of the city of Kos and the famous sanctuary of Asklepieion is, archaeologically speaking, a terra incognita. 

The second most important Demos of the island before the synoikismos (366 B.C.) was the Demos of Halasarnitai. Its center, Halasarna, was successfully located first by L. Ross (1844) in the vicinity of the village Kardamaina. From the ancient inscriptions, that were discovered in the 19th and early 20th century, it was evident that the famous sanctuary of Apollo and Heracles was situated in Halasarna. It was incidentally discovered in 1982, during an attempt to build a hotel in the area Kaminia, in the southwest part of Kardamaina. During the construction works two monumental Hellenistic structures (Buildings A and B) and part of a stoa were unfortunately severely damaged and the concrete foundation for the hotel was laid on top of them. This illegal construction was brought to a halt by the 22th Ephorate and a short rescue excavation took place, in order to make an assessment of the damage and also of the importance of this archaeological site. An excavation permit was then given to the Department of History and Archaeology of the University of Athens, which conducts a systematic excavation since 1985, under the direction of Profs. G. Kokkorou-Alevras, S. Kalopissi-Verti and M. Panagiotidou-Kessisoglou.

The ongoing excavation has already revealed a significant part of this important site. Its stratigraphy expands continuously from the Late Geometric (8th c. B.C.) down to the Late Roman period (mid 7th c. A.D.), when the whole region of Halasarna was altogether abandoned. It then remained uninhabited until the 19th century, when the modern village of Kardamaina was built. Unstratified finds of Late Bronze Age pottery show that there are possibly Prehistoric strata to be found in future excavations, maybe on the nearby hill "Tholos".

The best preserved building is a rectangular one in the north part of the site (Γ). It is a temple in antis, that was erected in the early 3rd c. B.C., namely at about the same time that the temple of Apollo Pythaeus, which is mentioned in several inscriptions, was built. Since not all of the area of the sanctuary has yet been excavated, and since the inscriptions mention the cult of several gods in it, this building cannot be securely identified with the temple of Apollo Pythaeus yet. It was repaired and used as a Late Roman building after the destructive earthquake of 469 A.D.

Several other buildings have been so far discovered in the site: east of the temple, a partially excavated monumental building of the Late Classical/Early Hellenistic period (E), southwest of the temple and parallel to it, a monumental Late Hellenistic marble building (A), unfortunately heavily destroyed by the hotel construction, north of Building A a stoa partially constructed of wood, probably dated in the Augustus era.

The inscriptions from the sanctuary inform us of the presence of a temple dedicated to Asklepios, a small temple for Gaius Caesar, a Heroon for several Roman emperors and a sanctuary of Ge. There were also several public buildings: a Timacheion, that is an administration building from the Middle Hellenistic period, and a Gymnasion from the Roman period.

The buildings of the sanctuary were seriously damaged by the earthquake of 139 A.D. Afterwards the sanctuary begins gradually to decline and was altogether abandoned after the middle of the 3rd century A.D. For some part of the 4th c. A.D. the pagan cult continued and animal sacrifices were made, but it was confined only to a small built pit, a couple of meters east of Building Γ. During the late 4th and 5th c. A.D. the settlement expanded within the area of the sanctuary and houses covered most of its area.

During the Late Roman period Kos still remained an important commercial center. It belonged first to Provincia Insularum and later to Moesia B and Scythia. Especially the period between two very destructive earthquakes (469 and 554 A.D.) was a time of great prosperity for the whole island, and also for Halasarna. Four basilicas were built in this town, one of them only 300 m away of the deserted sanctuary. In the area of the earlier sanctuary all buildings were demolished and their stones were re-used as building material for the houses. Some of these houses had two floors and a cellar, but altogether they were of rather simple design. Their inhabitants were fishers and farmers. Several workshops have also been found in the area, among them two ceramic kilns for the local production of table ware and of amphorae, which were indeed produced in huge numbers. There is also a significant number of imported pottery, mainly from various centers of Asia Minor and Cyprus. The last earthquake (554 A.D.) was followed by a deadly tsunami (Agathias B, 16=CFHB,II 61-62) that devastated the coastal settlement of Halasarna. The houses were rebuilt, but now they were much poorer. The whole area was finally deserted in the middle of the 7th c. A.D. and the population found refuge in new settlements that were built in the interior of the island, in well fortified places.

In 2003-2007 the Department of History and Archaeology of the University of Athens conducted a supplementary intensive field survey that covered almost all of the area of the ancient Demos of Halasarna (in total 18 km²). Discovered were several Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age small settlements, two cemeteries, that were used from the Geometric to the Hellenistic period, three Hellenistic pottery production sites, one Hellenistic/Roman sanctuary, and two Late Roman fortifications. It was also possible to define the boundaries of both the Hellenistic/Roman city (to the NE of the excavation site) and the subsequent Late Roman coastal settlement. These finds have been presented in 5 preliminary reports and the final publication of the survey is being under preparation.

The 25 years of excavation in Halasarna have so far revealed a significant part of the sanctuary from the Classical to the Roman period and also of the subsequent Late Roman settlement that prospered in the same site. It offers an uninterrupted stratigraphy that covers more than 1000 years, from the Late Geometric down to the Late Roman period. The publication of the many thousands of stratified locally produced and also imported pottery finds from these periods will serve as invaluable reference material for the numerous unstratified finds from other excavations on the island and the Dodecanese. The excavation finds have already been published summarily in 32 preliminary reports. The Hellenistic and Roman inscriptions have already been presented in 1 monograph and the pottery has been studied within the scope of 2 M.A. and 3 Ph.D. Theses. Also a detailed archaeological guide has been published for the general public, both in English and Greek.   The prerequisite for the study and publication of the huge amount of finds, which have been accumulated in 25 years of excavation, is their proper conservation and the use of modern, but also expensive methods of archaeometric analysis.     Within the five years of this particular research program, all finds from the 25 years of excavation of the University of Athens in Halasarna are going to be published in a total of 8 monographs, 1 Ph.D. and in 3 papers. This is going to be the first publication series of a Greek excavation in the Dodecanese and it will surely serve as a reference point in the international bibliography.

The conservation of the excavated buildings and all portable finds is the prerequisite for making the archaeological site accessible to the general public. The finds are going to be displayed in a local museum, which is going to be built for this purpose. The masterplan of enhancing the Halasarna archaeological site has already been authorized by the Central Archaeological Counsel (K.A.S.) of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Halasarna is going to become one of the most important archaeological sites of Kos and is going to attract interested visitors to the village of Kardamaina.