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Culture Archaeology Archaeological Sights Settlements Eastern Macedonia and Thrace Prefecture of Xanthi Municipality of Avdera

View of the bishopric church of Polystylon
(Photo: Archaeology p. 72)
Excavation at the basilica at Polystylon
(Photo: Paraskeuas Konortas)
Octagonal baptistery at the North Eastern corner of the bishopric church at Polystylon
(Photo: PAMTH 1994)
Ruins of byzantine Polystylon
(Photo: Paraskeuas Konortas)
Basilica at Polystylon
(Photo: PAMTH 1994)
Bishopric temple at polystylon
(Photo: PAMTH 1994)

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28/11/2007
Polystylon

Aikaterinh Balla
Source: C.E.T.I.
© Region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace
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After the collapse of the city-state, the ancient Thracian cities gradually began to decay and by the end of late antiquity (4th-5th centuries AD) this decline became more profound.

The decay of the city of Abdera started in the Hellenistic times. However, according to the excavation finds, the big disaster that occurred during the times of Emperor Constantine I (307-337 AD) marked the end of the ancient city. From that time on and during a period of five centuries, the city is not mentioned in any written sources. Later, in 879 a city named Polystylon appears to be the bishopric seat under the bishop Demetrios, according to the minutes of the ecumenical synod of Constantinople.

The substitution of the name Abdera with Polystylon must have taken place in the early years of the Macedonian Dynasty, in the framework of a reformation of the cities, when many of them became bishopric seats. The new name is probably associated with the many pillars (stylos in Greek) lying at the site of the ancient city.

According to various ecclesiastical reports (Notitiae) the diocese of Polystylon was belonging to the Metropolis of Philippi. Due to the great distance separating these two regions, Polystylon was annexed to the archdiocese of Maroneia, between 1365 and 1370. It is known that Petros was the last bishop, since his signature appears in a document of the year 1363 regarding the ownership of a small monastery of Saints Constantine and Helen, situated in Thasos.

Apart from the ecclesiastical sources, the city is referred to by Byzantine writers with either its Byzantine name (Polystylon) or the ancient one (Abdera). Grigoras uses the word fortress for the city and Cantacuzenus refers to it as small coastal town. Byzantine historians and chroniclers mention that during the late Byzantine period Polystylon was a rather important fortified seafaring city, linked with the hinterland by two roads; one leading to Xantheia and the other to Peritheorion (Anastasioupolis). After the Ottoman occupation of the region, the city was deserted; however, a post-Byzantine settlement was founded at the site of the modern settlement of Abdera, just 6 km far from the city, to the north.

In general, the Byzantine city fortification runs along the hilltop outline. The northwestern side is supported by outworks. Two gates on the northern side and a smaller one on the western side provided access to the city. Two interior walls cut transversely the fortification circuit; the first one divided the city in two equal sections while the second one, together with the eastern exterior wall, formed the interior Byzantine acropolis.

A large part of the Byzantine fortified enceinte was uncovered. Investigation was carried out in a public building on its western side. It is a bathhouse, a rectangular building with three successive chambers, with the middle one being the heated area. An extensive cemetery dating from the 9th-11th centuries was uncovered at the site of an earlier cemetery. It is situated outside the Byzantine city fortification and in front of the western gate of Abdera. A three-aisled funerary basilica (12th-15th centuries AD) was also found.

On the uppermost position of the settlement, where the tower of the Byzantine acropolis stands, are the ruins of a post-Byzantine three-aisled church with a narthex and an ambulatory, which is considered to have been the bishopric church of the city. It is founded on the ruins of an earlier church, in the interior of which stood an octagonal baptistery with a built cross-in-shape baptismal font. It was constructed in the 9th/10th centuries and restored in the 11th century. A built tomb with an arcosolium was revealed next to the baptistery.

Other important monuments of the archaeological site are:

The remains of a single-aisled domed church of the 12th-13th centuries with the surrounding cemetery. Relics were found in the interior of the walls close to the gate.
The mid-Byzantine wall of Byzantine Polystylon founded either over the wall of the Classical times or over the wall of the Roman and Late Roman times. The central gate stands on the northern side of the fortification.
The ruins of a small bathhouse were uncovered near the SW tower of the Byzantine fortification.

Excavation works began in 1982 and lasted for two years. They commenced again in 1991 and are still in progress.