Northwestern Attica has attracted scholarly attention since the end of the nineteenth century. The most systematic study of the entire region remains unpublished (Edmonson), while much work has been dedicated to the fortifications known on the Attic-Boiotian border (Vanderpool; Ober; Lohmann; Munn 1993; Camp). The most intensive survey work was done by the Stanford Skourta Plain Project in the late eighties (Munn 1989; Munn and Munn 1989; Munn and Munn 1990). Still, the borders of Attica remain unsettled and a systematic geo-archaeological study of the borderlands – from Eleusis to Aphidna – has never been attempted.
This paper focuses on the border demes of Attica in the Classical and Hellenistic period. Based on a new mapping of all known archaeological sites, this study examines the ways in which the different microregions which form Attica’s borderland were settled and exploited. In addition, it also examines the specificities of the border demes in comparison with the rest of Attica, assesses their economic resources, and defines the profile of a particular “border identity.”
The study is divided into three parts. The first part uses GIS (a geographic information system) to combine archaeological sites with geological and soil maps, in order to study the ways in which the landscape was settled in the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Focusing on the demes of Eleusis, Oinoe, and Phyle, as well as the region of Panakton and the Koundoura valley, I show how the best alluvial soils were well exploited at an early stage by people living in nucleated settlements. Some of them were fortified, offering a superior degree of protection to the people working the agricultural surfaces. The more marginal lands could attract people as well, although their settlement patterns tend to be influenced by more short-time issues.
Based on the profile of land-occupation, I then estimate the “carrying capacity” of the borderland. I calculate the potential production for Western Attica by recording the surfaces which could be used for grain (wheat and barley). I also assess how many people the different microregions could feed. For example, the deme of Oinoe could exploit some 627 hectares of prime soils, half of them being exploited annually (biennial fallow). Such a surface could produce some 7,400 medimnoi of grain, enough to feed 1,000 people. Most of this land could be exploited by walking less than 4 km from the fortified deme-center, although it seems that isolated individual dwellings were built in the deme as well. Similar minimal estimates can be established for Eleusis, Panakton, Phyle, and the Koudoura valley.
These results can then be compared with other demes of other regions of Attica. Such a detailed bottom-up estimate of the border demes has never been attempted before. It leads to a discussion about the economic potential of Athens borderland and the role it played in the broader chora.
Finally, as communities exploiting the productive opportunities of the microregions in which they lived, the demes often had their own identity. I consider whether the border demes of Attica differed from demes situated in other regions, and if the presence of the border had an influence on the settlement patterns and the economic exploitation.