Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Hector Williams

Affiliation: University of British Columbia

Hector Williams is Professor Emeritus of Greek Art and Archaeology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and directs UBC’s archaeological projects at Stymphalos and Mytilene (Lesbos) in Greece; he has also worked at UBC’s excavations at Anemurium in Turkey and with the University of Pennyslvania’s Gordion Project and the University of Chicago’s excavations at Kenchreai, eastern port of Corinth. Professor Williams is also a maritime archaeologist and Past President and Trustee of the Vancouver Maritime Museum. He has served as President of AIA Canada for four years, as Trustee of the AIA for seven years and on many AIA committees. He has been lecturing to local AIA societies since 1974 and has lectured AIA tours to the Mediterranean and Black Sea. His particular areas of interest are Greek cities, Greek sanctuaries, the Roman period in the eastern Mediterranean, maritime archaeology, and ancient lamps.  Professor Williams was the AIA’s Bass Lecturer for 2019/2020.


The Greeks and Romans of classical antiquity were great seafarers and their cities from the northeast corner of the Black Sea to the coast of present day Catalonia and beyond into the Atlantic were linked by a complex network of shipping routes.  Vessels ranged from small coastal traders to the big 1500 ton grain ships that fed the masses in Rome.  The talk will review the development of the ports that supported this trade from the great megalopolis of Alexandria to tiny local harbors of the island of Lesbos.  The speaker has been working on a variety of harbours since a graduate student in 1968 (Kenchreai, the eastern port of Corinth) to his present project directing excavations in the castle and near the North Harbour of Mytilene, largest of the ports of ancient Lesbos.

Excavations at Ancient Stymphalos (Arkadia). Stymphalos was a small city in the northeastern Peloponnese famous mostly for Herakles’ exploit of ridding the city of the pestilent Stymphalian birds.  Surveys and excavations directed by the speaker since 1982 have revealed much about a little know town nestled in an Alps-like valley in the shadow of Mt. Kyllene.  One of the first large scale geophysical surveys in Greece revealed a hitherto unknown town plan laid out on a grid; excavations have uncovered a sanctuary to Eilythyia, houses of the late classical to Roman periods, a theatre and other public structures, the city’s fortifications, and five different cemeteries of late Roman/early Byzantine times.  Events of the city’s unknown history have emerged as well.  For example, discovery of a Roman coin of 149 BC revealed that the Hellenistic city had likely been destroyed (at least in part) during the Achaian War, only to be resettled by Roman army veterans in the late first century BCE.

Mytilene, chief city now and in antiquity of the island of Lesbos, was one of the larger and richer of Greek cities and a centre of Aeolic Greek culture.  Famous for her lyric poets Sappho and Alcaeus and her ruler Pittakos (one of the Seven Sages of ancient Greece) Mytilene has received relatively little archaeological attention until recently apart for numerous unpublished salvage excavations.  In 1983 at the invitation of the city council the Canadian Institute at Athens began work inside the medieval castle that dominates the eastern side of town and, jointly with the Greek Archaeological Service, a site near the North Harbour.  My talk will focus on some of the remarkable discoveries at both sites, including a vampyre burial at the North Harbour site from an Ottoman cemetery that preserved below it a Roman building with colonnaded court that in the fourth century CE seems to have become a tavern/brothel as well as remains below going down five metres to the sixth century BCE.  Inside the Byzantine/Genoese/Ottoman castle we uncovered a sanctuary of Demeter and Kybele, probably the Thesmophorion of the ancient city, with remains of five altars and thousands of votive objects.  Amid the Roman debris from the site came numerous lamps with gladiator scenes, matched by relief sculptures of gladiators and wild beast fighters built into the nearby castle walls.  Mytilene was a great trading city too and maintained a fleet of warships even when she became part of the Athenian empire in the mid 5th c. BCE.  Her large but now mostly abandoned North Harbour (the commercial harbour in antiquity) preserves well built moles to protect ships inside.


See Hector Williams's work in the American Journal of Archaeology.

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