In 632 BC, an Athenian aristocrat called Cylon decided to make his dreams of ruling Athens come true. With the help of his father in law, Theagenes, the ruler of Megara, the would-be tyrant gathered a small army and seized the Acropolis in Athens From here; he hoped to persuade the people of the city to support him. However, Cylon failed to convince. Athenian forces besieged the Acropolis, and although Cylon escaped, his followers were left behind. Eventually, the rebels’ surrendered -after winning guarantees that the authorities would spare their lives.
However, the archon of Athens, Megacles, ordered the men massacred- despite the fact the men had taken sanctuary at the altar of one of the Acropolis’s temples. This sacrilegious act led to the banishment of Megacles’s clan. However, what happened to the bodies of the pardoned rebels was not recorded. However, between 2012-2016, a necropolis at the Falyron Delta, four miles outside Athens began to yield clues as to what happened to their remains.
Falyron Delta necropolis was a burial site for ordinary citizens in an area close to one of Athens’s smaller ports. While clearing the land ahead of the development of a new cultural center, archaeologists from the Department of Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture found a very unusual burial amongst the single, everyday pit graves of the areas past citizens.
A mass grave of human bones was revealed, containing the bodies of 80 healthy young men. Some of the skeletons were found lying on their backs in a neat row as if they had all toppled backward, while others had been piled into the grave in a jumble. Most had their hands secured with iron shackles. Two vases found in the grave dated the site to the third quarter of the 7th century BC placing the burials between the years 650-625 BC -the period of Cylon’s rebellion.
Head of excavations Dr. Stella Chryssoulaki believes that the men could be the remains of Cylon’s doomed army. The fact that someone had ensured they were buried with respect in an established cemetery does not suggest they were slaves or common criminals. The young men were in good health, but the fact that they were buried together and some were shackled suggests they were victims of a mass execution. Their interment in a respectable necropolis rather than a random pit would reflect the men’s pardon status despite their execution.
The graves of other individuals have revealed interesting information about the expected roles of the different genders – and how those who defied those roles were buried.