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Priene

Priene (Ancient Greek: Πριήνη, Priēnē) was an ancient Greek city of Ionia (and member of the Ionian League) at the base of an escarpment of Mycale, about north of the then course of the Maeander (now called the Büyük Menderes or "Big Maeander") River, from today's Aydin, from today's Söke and from ancient Miletus. It was formerly on the sea coast, built overlooking the ocean on steep slopes and terraces extending from sea level to a height of above sea level at the top of the escarpment. Today, after several centuries of changes in the landscape, it is an inland site.

Historical geography

Earliest cities

the city visible on the slopes and escarpment of Mycale was constructed according to plan entirely within the 4th century BCE. It was not the original Priene, which had been a port city situated at the then mouth of the Maeander River. This location caused insuperable environmental difficulties for it due to slow aggradation of the riverbed and progradation in the direction of the Aegean Sea. Typically the harbor would silt over and the population find itself living in pest-ridden swamps and marshes. The underlying causes of the problem are that the Maeander flows through a slowly subsiding rift valley creating a drowned coastine and that human use of the previously forested slopes and valley denudes the countryside and accelerates erosion. The sediments are progressively deposited in the trough at the mouth of the river, which migrates westward and more than compensates for the subsidence.

Physical remains of the original Priene have not yet been identified, because, it is supposed, they must be under many feet of sediment, the top of which is currently valuable agricultural land. Knowledge of the average rate of progradation is the basis for estimating the location of the city, which was moved every few centuries to renew its utility as a port. The Greek city (there may have been unknown habitations of other ethnicities, as at Miletus) was founded by a colony from the ancient Greek city of Thebes in the vicinity of today's Söke at about 1000 BCE. At about 700 BCE a series of earthquakes provided the opportunity for a move to within of its 4th century BCE location. At about 500 BCE the city moved again to a few km away at the port of Naulochos.

4th century BCE city

At about 350 BCE the Persian-empire satrap, Mausolus (a Carian) planned a magnificent new city on the steep slopes of Mycale, where it would be, it was hoped, a permanent deep-water port (similar to the many Greek island cities, which seem to delight in being located on and up seaside escarpments). Construction had begun when the Macedonians took the region from the Persian Empire and Alexander the Great personally assumed responsibility for the move. Both he and Mausolus intended to make Priene a model city. He offered to pay for construction of the Temple of Athena if it would be dedicated to him, which it was, in 323 BCE. The leading citizens were quick to follow suite: most of the public buildings were constructed at private expense and are inscribed with the names of the donors.

The ruins of the city are generally conceded to be the most spectacular surviving example of an entire ancient Greek city intact except for the ravages of time. It has been studied since at least the 18th century and still is. The city was constructed of marble from nearby quarries on Mycale and wood for such items as roofs and floors. The public area is laid out in a grid pattern up the steep slopes, drained by a system of channels. The water distribution and sewer systems survive. Foundations, paved streets, stairways, partial door frames, monuments, walls, terraces can be seen everywhere among toppled columns and blocks. No wood has survived. The city extends upward to the base of an escarpment projecting from Mycale. A narrow path leads to the Acropolis above.

Later years

Despite the expectations of the population Priene lasted only a few more centuries as a deep-water port. In the 2nd century CE Pausanias reports that the Maeander already had silted over the inlet in which Myus stood and that the population had abandoned it for Miletus. Apparently, Miletus was still open then, but Priene could not have been. Very likely, its merchants had preceded the people of Myus to Miletus. By 300 CE the entire Bay of Miletus, except for Lake Bafa, was silted in.

Today Miletus is many miles from the sea and Priene stands at the edge of a fertile plain, now a checkerboard of privately owned fields. A Greek village remained after the population decline and was joined by a Turkish population in the 2nd millennium CE. In the 13th century CE it was a primarily Turkish village known by the name the Turkish population had assigned to the escarpment, Samsun Kale or Samsun Kalesi, "Samson's Castle", where Samson had come to represent any mythical strong man (note that Turk in Turkish folk etymology is believed to mean "strong man").

By 1923 whatever Greek population remained was expelled in the population exchange between Greece and Turkey and shortly after the Turkish population moved to a more favorable location, which they called Güllü Bahçe, "rose garden", the old Greek settlement partly still in use, today with the name Gelebeç or Kelebeş. The tourist attraction of Priene is accessible from there.

Contemporary geography

Territory

In the 4th century BCE Priene was a deep-water port with two harbors overlooking the Bay of Miletus and somewhat further east the marshes of the Maeander Delta. Between the ocean and steep Mycale agricultural resources were limited although Priene's territory probably did include a part of the Maeander Valley. Claiming much of Mycale it had borders on the north with Ephesus and Thebes, a small state on Mycale.

Priene was a small city-state of only 6000 persons living in a constrained location. The population density of its residential district has been estimated at 166 persons per hectare living in about 33 homes per hectare (13 per acre) arranged in compact city blocks. The entire space within the walls offered not much more space and privacy: the density was 108 persons per hectare. All the public buildings were within walking distance, except that walking must have been an athletic event due to the vertical components of the distances.

Society

Priene was a wealthy city, as the plenitude of fine urban homes in marble and the private dedications of public buildings suggests, not to mention the personal attentions of Mausolus and Alexander the Great. One third of them had indoor toilets, a rarity in a society typically featuring public banks of outdoor seats in urban environments, side by side, an arrangement for which the flowing robes of the ancients were suitably functional. Indoor plumbing requires more extensive water supply and sewage systems. Priene's location was appropriate in that regard; they captured springs and streams on Mycale, brought them in by aquaduct to cisterns and piped or channeled from there to houses and fountains. Most Greek cities, such as Athens, required visits to the public fountains (the work of domestic servants), but the upper third of Prieneian society had access to indoor water.

The source of Ionian wealth was maritime activity; Ionia had a reputation among the other Greeks for being luxurious, against which practices the intellectuals, such as Heraclitus often railed.

Government

Although the stereotyped equation of wealth with aristocracy may have applied early in Priene's history, in the 4th century BCE it was a democracy. State authority resided in a body called the Πριηνείς (Priēneis), "the Prieneian people", who issued all decrees and other public documents in their name. The coins minted at Priene featured the helmeted head of Athena on the obverse and a meander pattern on the reverse, one coin also displaying a dolphin and the legend ΠΡΙΗ for ΠΡΙΗΝΕΩΝ (Priēneōn), "of the Prieneians. These symbols express a self-view of the Prieneians as a maritime democracy aligned with Athens but located in Asia.

The mechanism of democracy was similar to but simpler than that of the Athenians (who had a many times greater population). An assembly of citizens met periodically to render major decisions placed before them. The day-to-day legislative and executive business was conducted by a boulē, or city council, which met in a bouleuterion like a small theatre with a wooden roof. The official head of state was a prytane. He and more specialized magistrates were elected periodically. And yet, as at Athens, not all the population was franchised. For example, the property rights and tax responsibilities of a non-Prieneian section of the population living in the countryside, the pedieis, "plainsmen", were defined by law. They were perhaps, an inheritance from the days when Priene was in the valley.

History

Although the exact truth is not known, Priene was told to have been first settled by Ionians under Aegyptus, a son of Belus and grandson of King Codrus, in the 11th century BCE. After successive attacks by Cimmerians, Lydians under Ardys, and Persians, it survived and prospered under the direction of its "sage," Bias, during the middle of the 6th century BC. Cyrus captured it in 545 BC; but it was able to send twelve ships to join the Ionic Revolt (499 BC-494 BC). It was a Persian colony until Alexander the Great's conquest. Disputes with Samos, and the troubles after Alexander's death, brought Priene low, and Rome had to save it from the kings of Pergamon and Cappadocia in 155.

Orophernes, the rebellious brother of the Cappadocian king, who had deposited a treasure there and recovered it by Roman intervention, restored the temple of Athena as a thank-offering. Under Roman and Byzantine dominion Priene had a prosperous history. It passed into Muslim hands late in the 13th century.

Archaeological excavations and current state

The ruins, which lie in successive terraces, were the object of missions sent out by the English Society of Dilettanti in 1765 and 1868, and were thoroughly laid open by Theodor Wiegand (1895-1899) for the Berlin Museum. The city, as refounded at a new site in the 4th century, was laid out on a rectangular scheme. The steep area faces south, the acropolis rising nearly 200 m (700 ft) behind it. The city was enclosed by a wall 2 m (7 ft) thick with towers at intervals and three principal gates.

On the lower slopes of the acropolis was a sanctuary of Demeter. The town had six main streets, about 6 m (20 ft) wide, running east and west and fifteen streets about 3 m (10 ft) wide crossing at right angles, all being evenly spaced; and it was thus divided into about 80 insulae. Private houses were apportioned eight to an insula. The systems of water-supply and drainage can easily be discerned. The houses present many analogies with the earliest Pompeian. In the western half of the city, on a high terrace north of the main street and approached by a fine stairway, was the temple of Athena Polias, a hexastyle peripteral structure in the ionic order built by Pytheos, the architect of the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halikarnassos, one of the seven wonders. Under the basis of the statue of Athena were found in 1870 silver tetradrachms of Orophernes, and some jewelry, probably deposited at the time of the Cappadocian restoration.

Around the Agora, the main square crossed by the main street, is a series of halls. The municipal buildings, buleuterion and prytaneion lie north of the Agora, further in the north the Upper Gymnasium with Roman baths, and the well preserved Hellenistic theatre but all, like all the other public structures, more or less in the centre of the plan. Temples of Isis and Asclepius have been laid bare. At the lowest point on the south, within the walls, was the large stadium, connected with a gymnasium of Hellenistic times.

See also

  • Society of Dilettanti, Ionian Antiquities (1821), vol. ii.;
  • Th. Wiegand and H. Schrader, Priene (1904);
  • on inscriptions (360) see Hiller von Gaertringen, Inschriften von Priene (Berlin, 1907), with collection of ancient references to the city.

Notes

References

  • Crouch, Dora P. (2004). Geology and Settlement: Greco-Roman Patterns. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195083295.
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