Coin of Olynthus
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The Book

Text of Household and City Organization at Olynthus
The Database (coming soon)

Database of Houses, Rooms, and Objects at Olynthus, linked to Site Plan
Help with the database: Coin of Olynthus

Household and City Organization at Olynthus

Nick Cahill

University of Wisconsin-Madison

This web site offers the full text of Household and City Organization at Olynthus, together with a database and interactive site plan of all the houses, rooms, objects, and graves from Olynthus.

What's New:

May 21, 2002:

Household and City Organization at Olynthus is now available from Yale University Press. The full text and illustrations of the book are also available here on the Stoa site.

In the near future, literary citations, place names, vases and other objects mentioned in the books will be linked to Perseus, providing a rich environment for reading and research.

The database and GIS are in progress, but are not yet ready for distribution. We hope to have this available early in the fall of 2002. Some thoughts about how this will work are available here. If you would like to be notified of updates or have other questions, please contact me.

A Quicktime VR model of House A vii 4 is available on Perseus.

The Book

The book considers some of the relationships between house and city, and between household and community, as they were worked out in practice at Olynthus in northern Greece. Olynthus was occupied for a short period of time, primarily from 432 - 348 BC. It was then violently destroyed, leaving tens of thousands of artifacts on the final floors of its houses, and for the most part never reoccupied. A large area of the city was excavated by David M. Robinson between 1928 and 1938, and published in fourteen massive volumes. Its unique history, extensive excavation, which uncovered more than a hundred houses, and full publication makes Olynthus one of the the best sites for the study of Classical Greek urbanism and houses. Only at Olynthus can we study the remains of a planned city occupied for less than three generations, and so relatively unmodified by later rebuilding, and consider not only the architecture of houses but their contents as well, with well-preserved assemblages on the final destruction floors. We can investigate not only how the houses and city were planned and built, but how space was actually used; we can reconstruct the intended organization of civic and domestic space, and how that organization was realized in practice. We have unique evidence for the layout and use of domestic space; for the occupations and aspirations of the households; for the domestic and urban economies and how they articulate with one another. We can consider not only the typical house, but the range of variation among contemporary houses and their contents: variation which is related to differences in origin, status, family ties, occupation, economic strategies, and the like. We can analyze neighborhood and regional planning in the city, consider its house blocks as not only physical units of civic organization, but social units as well, and evaluate larger regional patterns in the city. We can compare the ideologies of Greek household organization with how houses were actually constructed, examining what sorts of spaces were built and how they were intended to be used; and then how those spaces were actually used. In short, the archaeology of Olynthus offers a fuller and richer picture of Greek domestic and civic life than almost any other Greek site.

The Database

The reconstruction of domestic and civic life at Olynthus offered in the book is based in part on analysis of the the architecture and artifacts from Robinson's excavations, recorded in his 14-volume series Excavations at Olynthus and in unpublished fieldbooks and other records. These were entered into a database to allow me to reassemble all the objects found in each room, reconstruct the activities that took place in different rooms and houses, and study the distribution of artifacts and activities across the site. The complete database is available on this site.

The database and GIS complement the narrative and interpretive account in the book. The book could not include descriptions of every house and room, or lists of every object found; and even if it could, it would be of little use in print. Instead, this data is much more useful in the form of a database and GIS, where other scholars can make use of it in their own research.

The database is an essentially complete list of all the artifacts, houses, rooms and graves recorded in the publications and unpublished fieldbooks and other records. There are 15,190 entries recording more than 19,196 artifacts from the site; entries for 1,282 rooms, 108 houses, and 634 graves. It contains 11,023 records of artifacts published in the Olynthus publications (2,201 of which have been added to or corrected with unpublished information from the fieldbooks), and 4,167 records of unpublished artifacts recorded only in the fieldbooks or other excavation notes. These unpublished records are particularly important, as they are often the only records of loomweights, grindstones, and other unglamorous household equipment which is crucial to understanding how houses were organized. See a fuller explanation of the database here.

The database of houses, rooms, artifacts, etc. is linked to a new site plan based on published and unpublished records, using Geographical Information System (GIS) technology. This allows users to plot the distributions of different types of artifacts on a map of the site or on plans of the houses, examine the relationships between the distributions of different types artifacts, and learn what was found in different houses and rooms graphically.

For instance, a user interested in ancient Greek weaving could read about it in the book, for instance in descriptions of House of Many Colors, House A vii 4, and House A v 9; in Chapter 4, "Weaving", and in Chapter 6, "Textile Manufacture". But he or she could also search for all loomweights from the site (list; summary list), and plot the distribution on a site plan, and come up with different or additional conclusions from those I reached. Users interested in particular houses and types of rooms can easily learn what was found in each. The excavations produced unique assemblages of coins, grave goods, and other material which I could hardly deal with in my research; I hope others will be able to continue where I have left off.

Instructions on using the database are found here. The GIS system was designed by Neel Smith, and is based on that of the Hacimusalar Excavations.