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The Sparta Basilica Project

reconstruction of the Sparta Basilica

An Anglo-Greek team of archaeologists led by Rebecca Sweetman (School of Classics) & Evi Katsara (Greek archaeological service) excavated the 6th century Basilica on the Acropolis of Sparta, Greece, to learn about the architecture and function of the church. In order to test the ideas about how the basilica was used the team collaborated with the University’s School of Computer Science to create and explore a virtual 3D reconstruction of the site. This unusual approach proved highly effective and is likely to be adopted more widely in archaeological research.


The Acropolis Basilica, Sparta, was first excavated in the early 20th century, but was never published. Our collaboration with the Greek Archaeological Service focused on a publication of the archives as well as a spatial analysis to show how the church was used.

Our study has so far revealed:

  • The nature of liturgy which focused on procession
  • Elements of a stratified society
  • Use of topography and architecture to manipulate society

All of this has been applied to understand the nature of Late Antique society in Greece which to date has been so poorly defined.


Our excavations revealed evidence for one of the earliest domed churches in the East. To test the theory, in collaboration with Dr Alan Miller in Computer Science, we undertook a virtual reconstruction of the church. In addition to aiding our research this has facilitated new resources for archaeological teaching at St Andrews:

  • This reconstruction forms a part of a virtual archaeological excavation in which the students participate in order to gain a better understanding of the processes involved in running and participating in an archaeological project.
  • Key issues that presently concern archaeological heritage management are debated using this model.
  • Students can experience the space to enhance their understanding of how it was used.

outline plan of the Sparta Basilica site 

handwritten page from original Sparta Basilica survey book
Page from original excavation notebook, 1926

3 team members working on Sparta excavation site

survey team working on Sparta Basilica site

Exploring the reconstructions

The Bridges Collection