Iklaina: The First City-State of Ancient Greece and Europe

Little-known Iklaina in Peloponnese was a major center of Mycenaean culture and findings indicate that it was the first city-state in Ancient Greece.

Iklaina marks the transition from a world without states to a world where the state is the dominant political institution. In the city-state located in todays’ Messenia prefecture, archaeologists have discovered the oldest written text in Europe on a tablet made of clay.

Situated at a strategic location overlooking the Ionian Sea, Iklaina appears to have been an important capital city of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1600-1100 BC) that became famous for such mythical sagas as the Trojan War.

An open-air pagan sanctuary, an early Mycenaean palace, giant terrace walls, murals, an advanced drainage system, and a clay tablet from between 1450 and 1350 BC featuring an early example of Linear B writing have reinforced the view that this ancient Greek town was one of the earliest complex states in ancient Greece by hundreds of years, if not the first.

The massive buildings discovered apparently served as administrative centers and the clay tablet is the earliest-known government record in Europe.

Iklaina apparently had a centralized political administration, a complex organized society and an advanced economic organization.. If until now, the earliest complex state in ancient Greece had been thought to have arisen around 3,100 years ago, the evidence from Iklaina indicates that the complex states were taking form as long as 3,400 years ago.

Archaeologists and historians believe that Iklaina was ultimately vanquished by rival Mycenae. It was destroyed by enemy attack at the same time that the Palace of Nestor expanded, indicating that it was the ruler of the Palace of Nestor who took over Iklaina.