Tomb of Sophocles, Varymbombi, Municipality of Acharnes

Tomb of Sophocles, Varymbombi, Municipality of Acharnes

The funerary monument, known as the “Tomb of Sophocles” in Varymbombi, was excavated in 1888 by L. Münter, director of the royal estate of Tatoi. It consists of a burial mound of the Classical Age with a diameter of 40 meters and an original height of 13 meters, surrounding a burial enclosure built of large rectangular blocks of local stone preserved to a height of seven courses. Within the mound three marble sarcophagi with lids were discovered, two of which remain in situ. The sarcophagi are attributed to one female and two male burials, since they yielded aryballoid black-glazed lekythoi, alabastra, a bronze mirror and two strigils (equipment used by athletes in Gymnasia to scrape off dust and sweat). According to the signed testimony of the excavator, one of the burials was accompanied by a wooden stick which he interpreted as the curved cane, known to have been invented by the tragic poet Sophocles. The skeleton from that sarcophagus underwent anthropological examination at the time, and was attributed to a male who died in the second half of his lifetime.

Sophocles died in 406/5 B.C. at the age of 91, and, according to the ancient sources, his relatives received permission from the Lacedaemonian general Lysandros in order to bury him in his ancestral tomb. The Anonymous Biographer of Sophocles reports that his grave ‘was situated next to the road leading to Dekeleia at a distance of 11 stadia from the “Wall”’. Since Sophocles originated from the ancient demos of Dekeleia but was a citizen of the ancient demos of Kolonos, earlier scholars maintained that his grave would stand in Kolonos, next to the Wall of the city of Athens.

However, in 1988, with the belief that it was impossible for the relatives of Sophocles to ask for permission from a Spartan general for a burial location next to the city of Athens, Münter attributed the word “Wall” to the fortress of Dekeleia, which, according to the ancient sources was under Lacedaemonian occupation during the Peloponnesian War. He identified the remains of an ancient fortification wall on the hill of Palaiokastro, within the former royal estate of Tatoi, as the fortress of Dekeleia, and he proceeded to look for the tomb of Sophocles in the region. At a distance of approximately 2 kilometers (11 stadia) from the fortification wall of Palaiokastro, next to the old road that led from Acharnes to Dekeleia, he located, and subsequently excavated, an ancient burial mound.

Although the identification of the burial mound in Varymbombi with the tomb of Sophocles seems probable, it has not yet been confirmed by the archaeological evidence. However, this funerary monument, known as the “Tomb of Sophocles” in Varymbombi, constitutes without doubt a very well-preserved example of a family tomb of the Classical Age.

The “Tomb of Sophocles” in Varymbombi is an officially designated archaeological site. Works for the enhancement of the site, with the reformation of the site and the construction of a roofing with a budget of 41,000 euros, were carried out in 2010-2012 by the Region of Attica, Regional Unit of Eastern Attica, under the surveillance of the then 2nd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. Actions for the conservation of the ancient burial enclosure and for the maintainance of the modern roofing are taken by the Ephorate of Antiquities responsible for the site (Ephorate of Antiquities of East Attica 2014-2018, Ephorate of Antiquities of West Attica since 2018).

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