• J. W. Barlament

The Dragon Houses of Ancient Greece

And so it seems another archaeological site (this time, technically, twenty of them) hints at the same thing countless other sites have hinted at: that the stars played a primary role in the lives of ancient people the world over.

Allow me to introduce you to the dragon houses of ancient Greece.

the dragon house on Mount Ochi, Euboea, Greece

These are a series of mysterious stone structures with open doors and small circular roof openings (presumably to let in light), varying in size and state of preservation, only ever found on Greece’s second-largest island, Euboea.

And by mysterious, I’m not just hyping them up for nothing. No one knows where the stones came from. No one knows who built the houses. No one knows when they were built or what they were built for.

They’re not mentioned in any ancient Greek, or even Roman or medieval, texts. In fact, they’re not mentioned by anyone, anywhere, until 1797, in part likely owing to the fact that they’re perched on the sides of some of Euboea’s highest mountains.

Excavations of the sites, too, have yielded little; lots of pottery shards, some utensils, animal bones, and reportedly a few fragments of inscriptions, though the details of these are so wholly absent from the Internet that one has to conclude they were either inconsequential or illegible. Analysis of the sites suggest them to be very ancient — most place their construction somewhere in the preclassical era of ancient Greece, due to the simplicity of their constructions and the preclassical pottery found within — but beyond that, not much can be concluded.

As always, though, much can be theorized, so what exactly lies behind some of the most mysterious megaliths on the planet?

Some have argued that their locations high up in the mountains means they were used as military outposts or even strategic warehouses, stored away so high up that in case of emergency in the cities it’d be a surefire thing that the supplies in the houses would be untouched. But beyond the abundance of pottery and conjecture based on locale, there’s really not much to back this idea up.

Others point to their folk name — drakospita, literally “dragon house” — as evidence. Locals have known about them for time immemorial, so the name may be very ancient indeed. And, as the prefix drako- really refers to any kind of ancient Greek deity, it’s been said that these could’ve been remote sites of worship or even religious pilgrimage. The idea that the gods may be reached better on a mountaintop would, of course, not be too foreign to the Greeks.

But what combines the idea of reaching god on a mountaintop and using that mountaintop as a watch post? And what theory actually has something other than conjecture behind it?

Well, based on research from the Department of Astrophysics at the University of Athens done on the dragon house on Mount Ochi, the largest and best-preserved of them all, we just might have an answer for both. Using models of the night sky as it appeared around 1100 BC, they found that the building is exactly orientated to the heliacal rise of the star Sirius.

But what of it? Isn’t every building orientated to the rise of some star on basis of pure coincidence?

Sure, but Sirius is no ordinary star. It’s the brightest star in the entire night sky, and it’s not close. The ancient Greeks knew it well, too — the modern term “dog days of summer” dates back to the Greeks noting the heliacal rise of the “dog star” as heralding the start of the hottest few weeks of the year. It holds a prominent place in countless tales of Greek mythology, and any ancient building orientated to it, no less exactly, no less on difficult mountain terrain, is unlikely to have been placed there coincidentally.

And remember how every single one of the dragon houses have holes left in their roofs? If they were watch posts or especially warehouses, that’d be a lot more of a hassle than a convenience to have. It’s certainly not a common feature of temples. But of observatories?

This isn’t to say that they couldn’t have held multiple functions, of course, but it seems every time we find impressive ancient megaliths, they have some kind of stellar alignment. Stonehenge? Newgrange? Sa Perda Pinta? The Gollenstein? The Bighorn Medicine Wheel? All had stellar alignments, often several simultaneously, baked into their orientation and construction. Whether the dragon houses all served the same purpose, or whether that purpose was solely astronomical, may never be known. But the orientation to Sirius is very likely no coincidence, and it serves as further evidence that a jaw-dropping number of mankind’s most ancient and most elaborate monuments were monuments to the stars — or, at least, to religions where the stars played principal roles.