The Survey of Dokos

The island of Dokos is a small rocky projection off the southern coast of the Argolid between the islands of Hydra and Spetses. Today uninhabited, the island was occupied in the Mycenaean period, and a famous Bronze Age wreck has been identified and excavated just off its coast. The location of Dokos, at the opening of the Gulf of Argos, placed it astride particularly important sea-lanes, especially those stretching from Cape Malea and the West to Athens and the Northern Aegean and Constantinople. During the Byzantine period the main route of communication with the West must have passed directly under the island's shores.

The island of Dokos

Despite its barren and formidable aspect, the hill of Kastro on the east end of the island, is crowned by an extensive fortification wall that encloses the remains of a substantial number of buildings, some of them (to judge by their size) of monumental character. A large settlement surrounded the fortified area on its three accessible sides and extended down to the well protected harbor that lay along the northern side of the island. Two present-day chapels were built on earlier foundations, and the remains of a possible large basilica can be seen within the fortifications of the kastro. No proper description or study of this large settlement has ever been made, but large quantities of pottery, lamps, and coins visible on the surface can all be assigned to the seventh century AD (see Kyrou 1995: 111-13, pls. 5-6), from early in the reign of Heraklios to the fourth year of Constantine IV.

Plan showing the Kastro and modern church

In its location close to the coast and the nature of its archaeological remains, the settlement on Dokos resembles those sometimes identified as "Isles of Refuge" at various other places along the coast of Greece (Huxley 1977). More recent research (Gregory 1984, 1986; Kardulias, et al. 1995) suggests that the settlements on these "desert islands" cannot be explained simply by a situation of flight from invading tribes, but rather as a result of economic forces or more broadly military policies and phenomena. The fortification and settlement on Dokos is the largest and potentially the most important of these early Byzantine island centers, and its examination and study promises to shed significant light on the period of the Byzantine "Dark Ages."

Geographic locale of Dokos

The settlement on Dokos is the subject of a recent study (Kyrou 1995) which argues that it figured significantly in a story told in a narration of Paul of Monemvasia (saec. 10). According to the surviving Arabic translation of this account, the relics of three of the patron saints of Barcelona in Spain (Valerius, Vincent, and Eulalia) miraculously appeared at the castle of ashab al bakar, which has previously defied all attempts to locate the place (Peeters 1911; Falier-Papadopoulo 1946). Kyrou, however, suggests the identity of this place as the kastro of Dokos described above.

Between 25 and 29 July 1996 a team from the Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia carried out an exploration of the area of the kastro on Dokos. This project was undertaken with a permit from the Ministry of Culture to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens under the supervision of the 2nd Eforeia of Byzantine Antiquities and the 2nd Eforeia of Classical and Prehistoric Antiquities. Fieldwork consisted of the measurement of the walls of the kastro, the creation of a detailed topographic plan, an examination of the structural and movable archaeological remains, and the examination of the church complex in the saddle to the south of the kastro. As a result of this fieldwork, the complete circuit of the fortress wall was plotted and its extent can be seen on the following plan

Plan of Dokos and fortifications

The fortress wall is preserved to a height of up to ca. 1 m., but there are considerable distances, especially on the southeast and the northwest where no wall was built since the steep declivity below the kastro provided adequate defense. The entire circuit of the kastro has a perimeter of ca. 575.37 m., and it encloses an area of 16,535 sq. m. Two phases can clearly be identified in most parts of the wall: an outer facing, made of uneven small pieces of limestone set into place with large quantities of a hard white mortar, and an inner facing, made of generally larger uneven blocks of limestone, commonly laid without mortar. It is obvious that the inner surface was constructed earlier, and the outer cemented face was added at a later date. A roughly north-south wall close to the western end of the kastro may represent a phase in which the fortifications were slightly smaller. Tentatively, then, we may suggest three phases of construction: phase 1, in which the kastro's western end was somewhat constructed; phase 2, in which the walls were extended fully to the west; phase 3, in which the mortared surface was added to the wall of phase 1-2. No clear evidence of the date for these phases is available, although the overwhelming preponderance of surface pottery suggests that phases 1 and 2 may be assigned to the late 6th and mid 7th centuries, respectively, while phase 3 may tentatively be associated with Morosini's known restoration of the kastro in the 1680's.

The Kastro

Three roughly rectangular towers can be seen on the north, east, and south sides, but a careful examination of these shows that these were constructed in phase 3. Likewise three gates pierce the fortification walls, two of them immediately adjacent to the towers. Presumably these gates were original to the earlier phases of the kastro.

Within the kastro are the remains of many buildings, all of them nearly completely ruined. Further investigation would almost certainly allow the delimitation of many if not all of these structures. This year's work, however, resulted in the identification of the remains of two large complexes oriented roughly east-west, and possibly large churches. One of these is located on the very summit of the hill, near the southeast corner of the kastro. The other is on a small plateau, slightly lower and to the northwest of the highest point. A number of cisterns were also identified, most of them located at or just above the fortification walls, although a well-built cistern was found along the south side of the second complex mentioned above. Some of the cisterns may be associated with phases 1-2, although at least a few of them were clearly part of the Venetian construction phase. To the east of the northern gate, and just west of a large cistern that we were not able fully to plot, is a spring that according to local informants supplied copious quantities of fresh water until the early years of the present century. The spring is now dry but this fresh water must have been an important element in the earlier importance of the settlement on the island. Another possible former spring may be noted near the northwest corner of the fortifications.

Men standing on Dokos conducting a survey

Traces of an ancient road can be seen running westward from the gate on the northern side of the walls of the kastro. This road followed immediately under the walls to a point below the westernmost point of the kastro. From this location sweeping back to the east, under the southeast walls of the kastro are the remains of scores of buildings, presumably a sizable settlement nestled under and protected by the fortifications. Time did not allow us to delimit the boundaries and extent of this settlement, but it must certainly have been large and apparently contemporary with phases 1 and/or 2 of the walls of the kastro.

Below the kastro to the south there is a low saddle that has a clear view of the sea, both to the east and to the west (location of the presumed harbor during the Byzantine age). At the top of this saddle is a small (ca. 3 x 5.8 m.) contemporary church dedicated to St. John the Theologian. This single-aisled church has a floor made of large ceramic tiles that presumably came from an earlier building. On the surface around the chapel are pieces of pottery dating to the 7th century AD along with fragments of marble slabs from an earlier structure. To the north of the contemporary chapel are traces of walls, and some 13 m. to the east, and on line with the apse of the chapel are remains of an apse with a radius of ca. 1.67 m.

All this evidence suggests that the present chapel was constructed on the remains of a much larger earlier 3-aisled basilica, presumably dated to the 7th century after Christ. On the basis of the surviving walls the nave of this basilica may be restored with a width of 9.00 m. and a length of 18.63 m. (excluding the apse). To the west there must have been an atrium, although its length cannot presently be determined. The discovery of this earlier basilica is of considerable importance because it may well have been the resting place of the remains of the Spanish martyrs Valerius, Vincent, and Eulalia mentioned by Paul of Monemvasia. Obviously such an identification cannot be proven on the basis of the present evidence. Indeed, the suggested reconstruction of the basilica is only hypothetical and based on fragments of walls that are visible above the present surface. The fragments of white and green marble found on the site, however, strongly suggest the existence of a monumental building in the immediately vicinity. A project of minor cleaning of the remains of this building, however, would almost certainly provide clear evidence on the size and shape of the early Byzantine building and hopefully answer the question of its connection with the remains of the Spanish martyrs. This is a question of considerable historical importance and one that will provide significant information about connections between Spain and Greece at the beginning of the Middle Ages.


Falier-Papadopoulo, J.-B. 1946 "Les reliques des SS Valère, Vincent et Eulalie et le Castle Damalet," in Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati 3 (= Studi e Testi 123): 360-67.

Gregory 1984 Diporto: A Byzantine Maritime Settlement in the Gulf of Korinth," Deltion tis Christianikis Archaiologikis Etaireias 12: 287-304.

1986 "A Desert Island Survey in the Gulf of Corinth," Archaeology 39.3 (May/June) 16-21.

1993 "An Early Byzantine (dark-age) Settlement at Isthmia: Preliminary Report," in T.E. Gregory, ed., The Corinthia in the Roman Period, Supplement 8. Journal of Roman Archaeology, 149-60.

Huxley, G.L. 1977 "The Second Dark Age of the Peloponnesos," Lakvnikaiq Spoydaiq 3: 84-110.

Kardulias, P.N.; Gregory, T.E.; Sawmiller, J. 1995 "Bronze Age and Late Antique Exploitation of an Islet in the Saronic Gulf," JFA 22: 3-21.

Kordosis, M. 1982 (Ena Lakvnikoq Kaqstro toy 8oy aivqna (Elafoqnhsow), Lakvnikaiq Spoydaiq 6: 259-67.

Kyrou, Adonis K. 1995 Periplaqnhseiw agiqvn leicaqnvn kai mia aqgnvsth kastropoliteiqa ston Argolikoq, Lakvnikaiq Spoydaiq 21: 97-118.

Peeters, P. 1911 "Une invention des SS Valère, Vincent et Eulalie dans le Péloponnèse," Analecta Bollandiana 30: 296-301.