Mt. Olympus, the Peloponnesian War, Pericles, Athens, and, of course, the Parthenon. When one considers ancient Greece, these are only a few of the topics that usually spring to mind. The heroic age of gods and men, the historical wars between Greek city-states, powerful strategoi and their prominent cities and, of course, architectural feats beyond compare. What does not spring to mind, however, are the megalithic structures the Greeks call drakospita, or “dragon houses.”
Megalithic Architecture of the Drakospita
Likely dating to the Preclassical period of ancient Greece, the dragon houses of Euboea are among the mysteries of the past which have yet to be understood. Resembling the stepped pyramid of Djoser in Pre-Dynastic Egypt and the temple complexes of Pre-Columbian Teotihuacan, these megalithic houses are structures built without mortar. Small, thin, mostly flat stones make up the buildings, stacked atop one another, kept in place with the uses of jambs and lintels. Large megaliths are used in various places throughout the structures, usually toward the roofs, positioned in a fashion that is similar to what is seen at Stonehenge.
A megalithic drakospita in Greece. ( fainareti)
While little is understood of these dragon houses, the number of the structures is far more than expected. Around twenty-three of these houses exist on the island of Euboea—most between Mounts Ochi and Styra—each building made of megaliths. In fact, scholars are constantly boggled by the sheer size and weight of the single megalith resting on two equally large post stones, together forming a doorway. How this megalith could have been lifted and placed atop the posts is as much a mystery as the reason behind the building of these structures.
One of Greece’s megalithic drakospita . (fainareti)
It should further be noted that, not only is the reason behind the houses a consistent question among scholars, but their location is equally astonishing. These dragon houses are situated at very high altitudes, making the weight and size of the megaliths even more shocking. The builders had to find a way to transport such large megaliths from a much lower altitude, and then construct the houses at a height at which it was likely unpleasant to work. Further, each structure possesses as Pantheon-like opening in the roof, likely intended for natural sun- or moonlight – to illuminate the interior of the structures.
Drakospita have holes in their roofs. ( CC BY 3.0 )
What’s in a Name?
Some theories have arisen that the structures might have been shrines to Hera, Zeus, or Herakles. Theories regarding the rituals that might have taken place within, however, are few. Another popular belief is that these megalithic buildings were either stations at which guards were positioned during the Hellenistic period, or they were warehouses in which supplies may have been stored. If these locations had been stations, they likely would have served as a base equipped with food, supplies, and soldiers, prepped and ready for whatever battle might be on the horizon. As warehouses, the list of necessities would have likely been non-perishable food items; yet the premise would have remained the same: in case of emergency, break megalith.
Another question lies in the structures names: why are these buildings called drakospita? The first thing one must understand is that the ancient Greek conception of dragons is not the same as the current one. Drako, interpreted as “dragon” in the present, really describes a mythical creature akin to modern perceptions of giants. In light of this description, one can more easily understand why these mountain houses have been named drakospita by archaeologists.
A victorious Hercules stands over the body of Geryon the giant. ( Public Domain )
Until more is understood about how these buildings were made and/or by whom they were constructed, referring to them as abodes of the supernatural is a surprisingly fitting description. After all, who else would have the strength to lift and move megaliths across the ancient world?
A Significant Site for Megaliths
Though the uses of these megalithic houses are unknown, their location is likely of great importance. For now, Euboea is the only known island in the Aegean upon which these houses stand. Further, Mt. Oche, where one of the best-preserved houses remains, is the tallest point of south Euboea. Perhaps there is a correlation between proximity to both air and sea, as Mt. Oche is near the prominent bay city Karystos. Might these structures have some relationship to an ancient more elemental religion than the Classical Greek traditions recorded by Hesiod and Homer? While this theory uses only one of over twenty known sites as an example, perhaps readers will use this as a stepping stone to investigate possible explanations for the purposes of the ambiguous drakospita.