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Social Anthropological Research

Dr. Susan Buck Sutton led efforts to study recent settlement and landuse in the valley. Her research was oriented at gathering information that would shed light on the changes that effected settlement and land use during the transition from the period of the late Ottoman empire of the 18th and 19th centuries to the formation of the Greek nation-state and its integration in the late 20th century into international capital markets, notably the European Community.

A first order of business was to work with the survey teams to document the location, size and form of settlements during this time in order to assess changing population sizes, changing economic strategies of land use, and the changing political and social landscape. A major issue is the question of depopulation during the late Ottoman period and repopulation after the formation of the Greek state.

The modern village of Koutsoumadi on the lower slope of Mt. Profitis Ilias is older than the main village and political center (koinotis) of Heraklion. Koutsoumadi's original linkage was with the town of Ayios Giorgios, modern New Nemea on the western slope of Profitis Ilias and in the Phliasian Plain. In the 19th century virtually all commerce and traffic moved to A. Giorgios and from there along the Kelossa Pass southeastwards to Argos. This route is well documentedfrom the survey which found abundant indications of settlement along it, and from textual sources, notably Xenophon, Hellenica 4.7.7, we know it was a primary route during the Classical period. Thus the Nemea Valley was marginalized during most of the Turksish era with settlement clustered along the western slope of Profitis Ilias while the valley bottom and eastern slopes were unsettled and apparently little cultivated.

With the departure of the Turks their ciftlik estates were broken up and rural Greeks who inhabitated the mountainous areas to the west began to resettle and claim lands in the valley. Most of this new settlement came to Koutsomadi. Druing this time the major agricultural crop in the valley was currants-a response to the European and North American taste for these sweet fruits. Thus the Nemean and Phliasian (as well as Corinthian) agricultural economy thrived. It received a great boost forward when the French vintners began using currants  to make wines after the devastating phyloxera blight of 1877. About the same time the village of Heraklion was established in the valley floor, partly because of damage caused to Koutsoumadi by an earthquake, but perhaps also as a part of the process through which local elites began to consolidate landholdings and establish a new political base. This shift in settlement has been significant in establishing the political and economic independence of Heraklion. The village is located to take good advantage of passage out the southeastern end of the valley, which leads directly to the Tretos Pass and the milling operation that was established at Chani Anesti. In 1890 when the railway from Corinth to Mycenae, Argos and Nauplion was built through Tretos Pass, Heraklion was located to take advantage of a major shift in transportation routes that left Ayios Giorgios and the Phliasian Plain off the main track, and this situation was consolidated in the 20th century with the construction of the national highway along the route of the railroad. It is notable that the political district (koinotis) of which Heraklion is the center includes Chani Anesti as well as old Koutsomadhi.

Thus the period of nation-state formation in Greece has succeeded in the Nemea Valley in repopulating the area and in stablizing landholding and land use within an agricultural economy. Almost from the beginning this process relied on international markets and capital formation. At the same time the valley has become a consolidated political unit tied to the national political structure. Nonetheless the villagers retain economic, social and familial ties to the towns and villages to the west, at New Nemea (A. Giorgios) and further into the mountain villages of the range of Kyllini as well as to market and political centers in the Argolid.

This study of the recent history of the area counters oft asserted claims that rural villages, especially those located on or adjacent to ancient Greek settlements and sanctuaries, are "untouched repositories of ancient custom". In fact the study illustrates in great detail the phenomenon of cyclical settlement and abandonment that has been recognized in the archaeological survey and through the excavation of Tsoungiza. It emphasizes in particular how the fortunes of the Nemea Valley are tied to external economic and political forces, both locally to such major neighbors as New Nemea (A. Giorgios) and externally as the Ottoman Empire or the nation-state of modern Greece and as such it raises important questions for further archaeological and historical research into the formation, maintenance and collapse of societies and their economic and politcal systems.


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