Mass Graves In Greece May Hold Tyrant Cylon’s Followers

Ancient mass graves in Greece have been found at the edge of Athens. Greece’s Central Archaeological Council considers the mass grave find of “high importance,” and will investigate further, according to Archaeologists think the mass graves may hold the remains of men who failed in a tyrant’s attempted coup.

Regional archaeological services director Stella Chryssoulaki believes the 80 skeletons found in the two graves may be those of followers of Cylon of Athens. It is, at this point, just a theory. One of the reasons archaeologists believe the remains might be of Cylon’s men is the good condition of the teeth, suggesting these were young and healthy men. Thirty-six of them were also shackled.

Kristina Killgrove, writing about the mass graves in Greece for Forbes, says the international news media have gotten the dates wrong, however. She says most media outlets place the skeletal remains’ dates at between 675 and 650 B.C.E. Killgrove puts Cylon’s rebellion as taking place later, in 632 B.C.E. But the date mix-up may actually work in Chryssoulaki’s theory’s favor. The Greek press, she writes, narrows the dates to the “third quarter of the 7th century BC.” The third quarter wouldn’t be 675 to 650 B.C.E., but 650 to 625 B.C.E.

Mass graves in greece [Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]Killgrove further argues that the shackled skeletons in these mass graves aren’t the only ones, or even the first, found in this part of Greece. A site near Athens, known as Phaleron, is no tourist destination. More than 1,500 skeletons were found there. Many of them were shackled, too. But the number of different ways in which they were buried — mostly in pits, but some in cremations, some in stone-lined graves, and even one in a wooden boat as a coffin — makes it difficult to know what the shackles specifically meant. Punishment? Slavery? A death sentence? Experts aren’t quite sure yet.

As exciting as the new find is to archaeologists, no one is making definitive statements. There are too many inconsistencies, experts say, to come to any conclusions.


The mass graves were found when an ancient cemetery was being excavated where the new National Opera and National Library of Greece are to be built.

Cylon (or Kylon), the would-be tyrant, was a nobleman’s son and a former Olympic champion. He, his brother, and his friends seized the Acropolis in an attempt to make Cylon ruler of Athens.

The Acropolis is one of Greece’s biggest tourist attractions today. But for Cylon and his men, it became their Alamo. Athenians resisted their coup. The power grab failed. Cylon and his men had taken the Acropolis, but then were besieged there. Cylon and his brother escaped, but not his followers. According to the ancient Greek historian Plutarch, a powerful Athenian named Megacles persuaded the remaining rebels to come out of the Acropolis, or Minerva’s temple as it was then known. Megacles promised the men that they would live to get a fair trial.

Megacles had them killed when they came out, though.

Mass graves in greece [Photo by Derek Gatopoulos/AP Images]Whether the mass graves in Greece are of Cylon’s men or not, the find has renewed interest in a treacherous moment a little over a century before Athenian democracy. Pre-democratic Greece was, of course, no stranger to tyrants, violence and enslavement. However, Megacles’ treachery was considered not only disgraceful, but worthy of a curse. Some believe it fostered a rising resentment of the ruling class, and may have helped in a small way to usher in democracy.

Countless bodies are buried along the road Greece took toward democracy. The newly discovered mass graves may just hold the bones of men who unwittingly helped shorten that road just a little bit. The people of Greece will have to wait to find out, though.

[Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]